By Randall Margo
Board Director and Commentator, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice
Social media platforms captivated us: connectivity with family and friends at the click of button; contacting like-minded individuals and groups across an ever-expanding digital spectrum; sharing photographs and videos, including perhaps, one's own artistic and musical content; accessing at our fingertips the most arcane information within nanoseconds; networking for business and employment opportunities; and, best of all, these social media platforms offered all of this and more for free.
Yet, despite being what are arguably some of the most compelling and useful innovations ever created, discontent is emerging among social media users, government officials, and even from those who helped develop these platforms, such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Unfortunately, and with apologies to Shakespeare, the dissatisfaction truly lies not with the platforms or firms, but with ourselves. Our ability to effortlessly communicate at electronic speeds has enabled us for better and for worse.
While this burst of progress dubbed “social networking” facilitated a truly astonishing ability to reach family, friends and vast quantities of strangers, it didn't change our human nature. Tagging along with this transformation are all too human frailties of jealousy, envy, greed, resentment and cruelty. So, platforms that sped thoughtful messages of compassion shared instantaneously when it mattered most, on other occasions conveyed messages of hideous, disrespectful and ill-informed remarks. Too often seen are conversations about a particular situation quickly devolve into a digital shouting match ending in, “You're stupid, no YOU'RE STUPID!” Too frequently, teenagers attempting to post pictures or observations primarily to obtain the most "likes" are aghast when others respond negatively with derogatory comments. Friendships created or nurtured through social platforms dissolve over minor misunderstandings or disagreements, perhaps suggesting that this type of friendship is less virtuous than real amity. And, vindictive or fake information now spreads more quickly and widely than ever before.
Meanwhile, the issue of privacy was always going to be problematic. There's a reason it's called “social media.” The whole idea is to disseminate information, photos and viewpoints to one's widest possible network. Twitter keeps track of how many followers you have, and the number of retweets of your pithy remarks, to the point where some people pay computer hackers to show more followers than they actually have. LinkedIn constantly urges you to expand your network connections for business and that next rung up the job ladder. Yes, social media companies can be reproached for tracking our every keystroke and then selling all our data to advertisers, even though they told us we agreed to this when we clicked "accept" on their 10-page terms of service agreements, typically written in fine print. But, are we blameless, or is the trade-off we intuitively understood when we were informed that the service was "free" - or, as the saying goes, if you're not the customer, you're the product.
Now, members of both political parties are demanding regulation and perhaps break-up of the largest social media companies. These firms are being excoriated for their inability to discern swiftly and righteously what is true and what is false, what is offensive and what is not, while simultaneously being accused of censorship for any errors or omissions made in evaluating their platform content. Could any social media firm meet such exact standards of regulating the material millions of people post daily on these platforms? To ask the question is to answer it.
Perhaps certain regulatory measures or even greater competition amongst the largest social media firms will alleviate these problems, but I doubt it. We should never forget to acknowledge that as human beings we are at times prone to our worst instincts, and that social media platforms are just a more convenient means of revealing our character.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.