It was a halcyon dream wasn’t it, the creation of a parallel universe of browser and app based communities that we could all join on demand. No entry fees, effectively VIP passes into all global digital bars, clubs, pubs & meeting places. Not only could we meet our friends and family physically now we could connect digitally and instantly.
The providers of those social media channels figured out early that if they could keep the barriers to entry non-existent & the technology attractive then user growth could be viral and huge numbers of active users meant extraordinary opportunities to attract advertising revenue.
For years, all eyes were focused on user numbers and the accumulated losses being racked up by the social media platforms whilst they built to a scale large enough to turn a profit. Nobody thought much about who the social media users were, what content was being submitted, who was impacted, who benefitted…
So here we are in 2021, faced with some astonishing unintended consequences. Sitting alongside millions of global communities connected for good is a significant and growing heinous trend of hate, racism and fake information. Minority communities of all creeds and colours experience daily abuse from faceless scribes.
But it’s not just an issue of racism or extremism, it’s become an outlet for hate that can be arbitrarily aimed at everybody and everything. We’ve seen countries use social media to impact opinion, racists abuse athletes, anti-vaxxers purport their misguided ideas, and in the last few days the Taliban in Afghanistan can be seen to advance their position using facebook and whatsapp.
Commentators regularly call for social media platforms to be regulated like news outlets, this is patently ridiculous. There are literally billions of posts arriving every day, it would be impossible to subjectively or objectively censor that content. These channels are simply not the same beast as a newspaper or TV station. In fact, the attempts by the social channels to censor are often misguided and focused on entirely the wrong authors and issues.
This is, of course, due to the reason that culturally, these are not organisations with a heritage or culture of journalistic integrity. These are tech platforms selling advertising. The heavy hand of government is also unlikely to work – prohibition of any kind tends to just drive behaviours underground.
So What Could Be A Solution?
Fundamentally it’s down to making every person making every post accountable by being identifiable to the social channel holding their profile. It seems to me that every single account must be identified to a person who has had to scan a copy of their ID to join. By all means the user can attach an alias alongside any visual thumbnail they like. But, the moment that a post becomes subject to complaint or transgression there is a human being behind it.
The best argument I’ve heard that counters my solution focuses on the need for repressed populations to have a means to speak out without fear of reprisal or retribution. Belarus anyone! My repost is that we cannot satisfy the few at the cost of the many. We cannot countenance, anymore, the global pandemic of hate that is uploaded every second of every day.
Sadly, my words like so many on this issue appear like a kite in a hurricane. As a capitalist I want all the social channels to prosper and the shareholders to profit. But there must be a pivot in the business model which ironically will probably only happen if social communities fight for change on the very platforms that need to change…