One of the complaints that many people have had about Twitter and Facebook’s efforts to minimize the use of their platforms for illegal, or even just overly rude, behavior is that once they started down that path, the demands for them to add one more thing to focus on would never end. I was reminded of that earlier this week when I saw a link to an online petition calling for social media platforms to crackdown on anyone using them to foster the illegal trade of apes.
Now, again, like the attempts to get them to focus on terrorists using their platforms, or trolls harassing people with the platforms, or trading illegal images, or human traficking, the idea that the companies should do something to hinder that sort of communication sounds like a good idea, but it’s going to reach a point, if it hasn’t already, where it’s all just too much.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time I tried to run a social network, and then even a Google Plus Group for child abuse survivors. I had two goals, I wanted anyone to be able to post, even anonymously if they needed to, and I wanted the community to be relatively safe for it’s members. What I soon discovered though, was the the only way to do that was for me, or some other admin, to watch the group constantly. To look at every posting, and every reply, to try and catch anything untoward, or dangerous before it impacted too many people. Eventually, I gave up and closed them down because that was impossible. I foresaw the possibility that while I was on a 16 hour plane ride to Sydney, for example, that the group could literally implode due to inappropriate conversations. Since I couldn’t stop my life to make sure it stayed safe, I chose to simply not do it anymore.
Now, Facebook, Twtter and the like find themselves in a similar situation. People want to use the platforms to communicate, and keep up with the news, and each other, but they want it to be safe from unruly behavior and devoid of anything illegal, or that is too upsetting. And they expect the tech companies to somehow, magically, create this world. Again, it seems like a reasonable goal, but it’s actually quite a contrast to the reasons we enjoy social media so much in the first place. We enjoy the open flow of information, the open and immediate conversation, and the ability to reach out and communicate with just about anyone. That kind of communication, however, isn’t really compatible with the monitoring we are also asking these companies to do. The only way to truly make it a “safe” environment, is to review and approve everything before it is posted.
We wouldn’t like that. It would be a huge detriment to the entire endeavor.
Unfortunately for the social media companies though, they like to brag about their algorithms. Especially about how the algorithm can analyze content and make sure you’re seeing the most important stuff first. That might have been a huge mistake. See, if social media feeds had simply been left to show users everything in reverse chronological order, then there’s no logical reason for any of us to think they would have the ability to analyze posts and do some of the things they are constantly being asked to do. By analyzing the content though, and using that analysis of the content as well as our own behaviors to build our social media feeds, they have made the idea of preventing misuse (However you want to define that), a completely logical one. After all, if you are already analyzing the content to see if it’s something more likely for someone to want and interact with, why can’t you also analyze it for illegal content, trolling, porn, etc.?
On the other hand, by the time they get done analyzing and blocking content that anyone would complain about, there might not be enough left to make it worth our while to even log in anymore.
So which is worse? Having people who use the platform to do things we wish they wouldn’t, or no one bothering to use it?
Personally, I’d err on the side of letting people communicate, and also letting law enforcement see the communication and investigate the people doing it. That seems a bit more reasonable than simply blocking it and pushing it further underground. But hey, that’s just my opinion.
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