Starting with MySpace 20+ years ago, now facebook and twitter, social media is facing a reckoning.
The legal framework for social media to exist and thrive has been based on the limited immunity that each organization has through actions of various governments. This means that users can post whatever they want, but social media operators are required to maintain a version of a community standards policy that forbids the most vile content (overt racism, violent content, sexually exploitative content, etc).
Big corporate (and little corporate) advertisers generate most of the revenue flow to social media orgs – which maintain the free basis that average users enjoy. Advertisers in turn may target their advertising dollars to get their product or message in front of you based on your browsing habits and demographic information you’ve volunteered as part of your application to join.
This was the deal. It was a cost free way to join a large club for users; reach out to your community and family and for others to make money. So long as bad actors didn’t exploit the system for their own gain.
The limited immunity granted by government against social media orgs gave folks a place where free speech thrived. But like anything, there are extremes…and freedom of speech doesn’t equal freedom from consequences.
We have learned that the new measure of power is influence itself. The more people you can influence, the more powerful you are. If your social media circles amount to around 100 people – that is your reach. But if you’re a powerful ideologue with 250 million followers, your words carry powerful influence.
That’s a lot of power given to one person; to reach millions with a message. What if the message is lies? Who gets to vet what is truth and a lie? Is lying contrary to social media community standards? Maybe; but who gets to determine this?
Lies that told to millions of followers where election integrity is undermined; dog-whistle racism promoted; basically any narrative that might get you fired from a job or potentially charged with mischief – is that free speech?
For the same reason that you cannot yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre and claim free speech, other words can have dire consequences too. Inciting violence (re: January 6, 2021) isn’t free speech. Yet, free speech puritans argue that it is; that literally anything is fair game…all of it. One problem.
Advertisers do not want their brands anywhere near racist, xenophobic, sexist rhetoric. They don’t want their brands anywhere misinformation on election integrity, antivaxxer garbage – and there is not a law in the land which will force advertisers to do so.
With a loss of substantial sums of money (used to prop up social media orgs), they’ll have little choice but to charge membership fees for what used to be free. In itself, this is a partial solution; but won’t replace the lost cash flow of big advertisers.
What Elon Musk, proud new owner of Twitter has elected to do is double the premium service fee – and add the vaunted blue check ‘validation’ marking to any subscriber who pays $8 per month US.
The blue check was a symbol, and it was granted to important account holders; political leaders, influential business leaders, some corporate accounts, big named media personalities, religious leaders, etc. Now anyone could buy their own blue check – making it meaningless across the system.
What Twitter could have done, is bolster their real-person authentication system. Only bonafide people or legitimate businesses with verifiable account users to wipe out the menace of trolls and bots that are largely responsible for the spread of misinformation. No – instead, those fake accounts can easily get the blue check and portray themselves as trustworthy.
As an advertiser, why would you want your brand to be mired in this ever worsening cesspool of misinformation and hate?
They’re fleeing…if not outright, they’re setting up shop on alternative social media places such as Mastodon. At best, for twitter’s sake, they’ve paused their ad spending, and Elon Musk is pretty upset about it…as if his corporation is entitled to money from another business.
What lays ahead I believe is a reckoning of the social media industry. What began as an experiment in online community building and commerce has become the testing ground for anti-democratic zealots bent on undermining freedoms around the world.
Nobody is interested in undermining free expression, but we are all interested in letting such freedoms thrive as we promote democracy and choice – not attempting to pull the rug out from underneath it.
You can bet you last assets that there are folks uninterested in democracy and freedom and wish to install themselves in positions of absolute power; corporate, religious, and extremists of the hard right and left would ban elections if they could. Social media has given their agents just enough room to spread misinformation and doubt on voting, elections, personal freedoms – to the extent that some ask – why even bother with these troublesome things.
That is what they want.
I don’t pretend to have the answers either, but I know that we cannot keep going the way we are going.
Life and freedom wasn’t bad before social media; but the anonymity of such platforms has given rise to very bad actors where they couldn’t have their soapbox before – out of the shameful embarrassment of their ideas.
The hidden keyboard warriors gather their troops; led by ‘generals’ who gain more and more authority as a result of the increasing absurdity of the level of hateful and false rhetoric that they post. They brag about being outside the mainstream as something to be proud of and gather a following of others who get to be part of this incoherent cabal of others who won’t follow the masses.
Clearly they must know something and big media/corporations, MSM and the political elite must be lying – withholding the truth, I guess.
Admittedly, its empowering to be part of a cause larger than the self; to put efforts into making society better for all. But to what extent do election integrity doubters help society? Covid deniers, antivaxxers, etc. They don’t help. They are menacing to society.
Previously, these circus side show freaks got little attention; now thanks to algorithms of the social media empires – they get promoted. Its the modern equivalent of bombarding people with lies – and demonizing efforts to fact check dangerous mistruths.
We have seen this before.
My two bits.