Social media is not social anymore and certainly not media

A manifesto for curators, mediators and moderators

Frederic Guarino
Sep 6 · 5 min read

It’s historical fact that starting in the 15th century Gutenberg’s press liberated the propagation of ideas vs monk-copied enluminures and directly affected societies’ very structures. The cumulative effects of mass access to broadband, mobile access to the internet and participation in social media such as blogging and tweeting are not yet fully analyzed but the past 5 years are a good indicator.

“Social” media is an oxymoron

So-called social media is an oxymoron: social implies a modicum of interaction rules, sorely lacking on Facebook and Twitter, and media implies a mediation performed by newspapers, radio and broadcast and cable tv networks, which Big Tech has mostly refused to take on. In a recent conversation a good friend of mine reflected on the perils of leaving social media networks to pugilistic extremists from both sides. The pernicious nature of Cancel Culture has been expertly summarized in a 2 part series of the NY Times’ The Daily:

5G is billed as bringing even more global access to broadband and telecom carriers’ vision of always-on video-based services is now taking shape, albeit without necessarily confronting the challenge posed by political deep fakes and other warped applications. The current Big Tech and Big Telecom attitudes vis à vis regulating content on their networks is apathetic at best, devious at worst. Regulation is coming and its exact form will be a product of a transatlantic tango of sorts. What’s clearly lacking in this era of ideas exchanged at the speed of a tweet are enough incentives for curators, mediators and moderators to help shape public opinion.

We have read all the books

pre-Renaissance men (and a few women) could assuredly say that at a given time they had indeed read all the books. The acceleration, via movable type, the printing press and the falling price of paper, of the marketplace of ideas led many of these Renaissance figures to experience a true trauma at the thought of not being able to grasp the entirety of human intellectual production.

The seemingly ever expanding torrent of gazettes, books, early forms of newspapers was met with different types of government regulation: England, Scotland and Holland were rather free and open societies, whereas absolutist France outlawed non-government sanctioned publications. The volume of publications carried with it waves of fake news and utter falsehoods. The role of professional journalists and editors soon became necessary to sift through, classify and organize the treatment of the news. Early newspapers reprinted others’ news, a bit like Facebook’s wall does today. A period of acceleration and confusion was followed by a more staid era, where newspapers gave birth to media companies and the twin business model of paid publications and advertising.

Sharing and commenting should NOT be a free for all, moderators are needed

So-called social networks, whose core roots sit with the sharing and commenting functions, have forgotten what made early BBS/Usenet boards and early networks such as The Well, worthwhile and valuable: the power of moderation. The ability for anyone and everyone to post any type of message as a byproduct of the First Amendment and free speech has been unnecessarily twisted.

The power of media products in the analog eras – newspapers, radio, television – resided in the delta between those with the access to broadcast their ideas and those able to receive them and make them their own. The digital era’s built-in level playing field is what makes a newspaper a radio network a quarterly magazine, all due to the medium of consumption. your smartphone/tablet/computer. This fact has superseded for too long the necessary ingredient needed to balance it out: moderation and comment editing. Google/YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have exercised editorial control from day 1 given their thousands of moderators tasked with finding and deleting violent/pornographic content. The so-called social networks need to devise and nurture a business model to bring in editors/curators/sharers, as well as expert moderators. There’s a clear market and societal need for this, all that’s missing is a business model.

Better governance of the internet

The Federal Communications Commission was given the mission to regulate and oversee broadcast communications for radio and television. The exemption for the internet era was always an anomaly waiting to be corrected. Big Tech‘s top CEOS have anticipated this: Microsoft’s Satya Nadella stated Davos 2020: “I think we should be thinking a lot harder about regulation” of facial recognition and object recognition technology; Google’s Sundar Pichai went so far as to back the EU’s ban on facial recognition.

Twitter’s Dorsey approved of GDPR: “I think regulation is a good thing,” Dorsey said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg in Toronto. “There are things like GDPR that have been net-positive, not just for our platform, but also for the industry in general.”

As ever, Facebook’s Zuckerberg remains the odd man out, preaching to the choir when he finally admits in February 2020 “Even if I’m not going to agree with every regulation in the near term, I do think it’s going to be the thing that helps creates trust and better governance of the internet and will benefit everyone, including us over the long term”.

Let’s be reasonably, realistically optimistic that this better governance will be born out of necessity, both from a user and a network perspective :)

The Mediaquake

where the #ContentRumble pits the entrenched incumbents…

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