How to police social media is now at the top of the agenda, for everyone

social media
Image credit | AZALIA/

How to police social media is one of the thornier issues of today. Now that the US elections are over, both Facebook and Google have paused political adverts to review the situation and see whether they can fix the problem internally.

Facebook is about to open its digital doors to researchers and academics so that they can analyse political adverts and decide whether it was fair advertising or not.

This is likely to be a subjective debate because what the researchers will probably find is that certain ‘not sure’ groups of voters were heavily targeted just before polling day.

Whilst you may think ‘well, that is certainly influencing people’ and you would be right, it triggers an even larger question.

If you can target users down to that level of granularity, is it right to do so? Or not. Surely the whole point of personalisation and targeted advertising is that you can, er, personalise and target advertising.

It will be an interesting exercise, we have no doubt, but we question whether it will provide any real insights.

Meanwhile, over at Twitter Towers, the powers that be have come up with their own ruse. Twitter has launched Birdwatch, that allows its own users to flag up misleading content. Whilst we know that these birdwatchers will be vetted and their numbers will not be huge, this initiative to tame social media content could also unearth a can of worms. At worst, it could ignite a fire war among Twitter users about what is fake news and what is tagged as fake news but is actually real news. In a way, this is already happening as we see accusations fly. At best, it could cost Twitter dearly by adding another layer of bureaucracy and controversy to the platform.

As most established social media sites battle to remain relevant, by getting into news or launching localised services such as Nextdoor, or specialised services such as Facebook Dating, it is all beginning to feel a bit desperate, a bit flabby, a bit like something thrashing about as it loses strength.

There are no easy answers to the question of how you police social media. At the heart of the argument will be whether Governments decide that social media sites are publishers or platforms. This will be critical to how they are regulated.

Of course, there are trends among the established players that might help fix the problem from within. We recently reported that employees at Google had set up a Union. As predicted, this has now gone global, but from within such a movement will come committees and sub-committees and a likely early starter will be one that oversees the content that flows through the company’s sites. It will be interesting to see if there is a similar initiative at Facebook, Twitter or Amazon.

A couple of years ago, we attended an ETIS meeting on advertising and asked the question, ‘why, if telcos have the data, do they not hurry off down the personalisation and targeting route?’

The answer was that the Ethics Committee would not sanction such a thing and that customers would think of it as ‘spooky marketing.’ So they didn’t.

Could it be that a time is coming when the cool tech companies will be as restricted by their own bureaucracy and levels of command that has hampered telcos over the last decade or so – and allowed Apple and Google to reap the benefits?

If so, then 5G and its potential might be the turning point for telcos to take back control.

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