The Two Faces of Social Media

When it comes to social media, I always get mixed feelings. I have a love-hate relationship with these platforms. Social media started a revolution on humankind and, things that thought to be impossible are now at the tip of our fingers. However, there is a big downside too.

Communicating with people, staying connected with friends we haven’t seen in years are just a few of the advantages that social media provides to us as users. More important than that, social media has helped us, the people, gain power and advantage over governments and companies thanks to the information that is available to us through their platforms. Social media has given us a voice, freedom of speech, and the tools to express ourselves and communicate our thoughts. It has been the engine for massive movements in recent history like the “Black Lives Matter” and climate change movement, among many others.

However, all of this seems just too good to be true, right? and it is. Here is the downside of social media.

Spreading False information

It is known that platforms such as Facebook have a huge issue when it comes to dealing with fake news and misinformation spreading. The problem is that this type of news spread faster than any other content. I read Kara Swisher’s article in The New York Times about Marc Zuckerberg’s position on Holocaust denial. And I have to say it is just so disappointing to see a leader of Zuckerberg’s caliber taking such an indifferent approach and point of view on one of the worst and most dark and obscure moments in world’s history.

I find this to be personally offensive as millions of families (including my own) were lucky enough to escape from Europe to survive the atrocities of the Holocaust. Leaving everything behind, including their family to start from scratch in a foreign country to which they were complete strangers. For someone to deny that millions of innocent people, including women and children, were brutally tortured to a point where they were completely dehumanized to every possible extent only to face a horrible and torturous death. For the only reason for having different beliefs on religion, race, sexual orientation, among others is just unacceptable. Let alone for Mark Zuckerberg, who is Jewish and is the owner of the company. It is just common sense that hate speech should not be spread, especially on a platform with such a wide reach as Facebook. The platform should have taken action from the beginning and block or delete the accounts of these people, exercising a zero-tolerance policy on hate speech and fake news.

Regulation and Privacy

The biggest problem for us as users of a social media platform is privacy. What are these companies doing with our information? How much of us do they know? We have no idea. There is no transparency. Regulation is of paramount importance in this industry, and for some reason, it seems like there is hardly any. Are governments worried about how these platforms can affect people’s data and privacy? There are countless industries, from drugs to banks, that are strongly regulated worldwide. Why is social media being undermined in this aspect?

If you haven’t done so yet, you should listen to Prof Gallaway’s podcast with Siran Aral as a guest speaker. Now, Siran has an idea of how social media should work in an ideal world where every person has their own identity portability. With this identity, you can take your data from one platform to the other and communicate across all social media. This would make companies compete for the security and privacy of users. He exposes two other ideas where he suggests that advertisers should be taxed or maybe adopt a business model of subscriptions.

I don’t think that identity portability is the solution for platforms to be more responsible or conscious of the user’s security and privacy. But I like the ideas and solutions that he presents, such as taxing advertisers or using a subscription model. However, both of these have downsides as you would be excluding people from the platform. But honestly, I think that the power that the platforms have is user data, and the more you interact with it, the more information they have on you. It may not necessarily be about being profitable but about the power they possess by having so much information on millions of users.

On the other hand, I must say that I agree with some of his points. “The social media companies that will succeed are the companies that align a sustainable long-term profit-maximizing business model with society’s values.” This is a great concept. However, as long as there is no regulation, platforms don’t care much about society’s values.

Some Final Thoughts

Social media is a double-edged sword that offers many benefits to users. However, transparency from these platforms is crucial. We deserve to know what information these companies have and what they are doing with it. Governments must regulate the industry to protect users. Although some legislation exists on privacy, there is still a long way to go for the law to catch up with the latest technological advances to provide an adequate legal framework that truly protects us and our rights. This is just the beginning, and if we don’t act soon, we might face a regrettable future in which we are completely submitted to the unrestricted power of the big tech companies.

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