It will come as little surprise to know that there are conflicting reports out there on whether social media is good for you. One report about a month ago found that teenagers (particularly) were basically unaffected by the amount of time spent perusing, well, whatever social media teenagers peruse.
Then there is another report that says that everyone is thoroughly fed up with social media, many people have been bullied, abused, seen unacceptable content of some sort and generally not had fun online. 61% of adults have had a bad experience and that figure hits 79% when it comes to teenagers.
The really worrying statistic is the 60% who believe that the free rein that the internet has given social media has basically soured the whole experience and these people are saying that the risks now outweigh the rewards.
And when the founders of the two pillars of social media (Ev Williams, Twitter and Chris Hughes, Facebook) publicly come out against the power and influence of social media, you have to take notice.
Ev Williams regrets that ‘the middle ground’ has gone, the blog that is somewhere between the long read and the instant sound byte. He says that when you tweet something ‘you have to put your armour on’ because you know you will get instant and not necessarily nice feedback. Hughes believes that regulators must curb Facebook and that Zuckerberg has ‘unilateral control over speech’.
Further research, this time from the ‘Queen of the Internet’ Mary Meeker, shows that 42% of users have experienced ‘offensive name calling’ and 16% have experienced threats of physical violence. Her extensive and annual ‘state of the internet’ report also shows the extent to which countries are now regulating and/or censoring the web.
Whatever the truth, we must now be thinking seriously about changing the model. And the problem is that many of the solutions are not workable. Governments can, of course, censor social media and the internet but then that causes riots and protests about freedom of speech. Some now think that the internet will splinter and become more regionalised and even country specific as a result of the anti social activity.
You can try and self-regulate somehow but the freedom of speech that social media enjoys has become unstoppable anarchy in itself.
The social media companies cannot control the content on their sites – and will always be playing catch up, whatever AI might promise. This means that tech savvy extremists will always be able to post their gruesome wares before they are stopped and human nature, with its morbid side, will make grotesque images go viral and become unstoppable. Meeker’s report also shows that people prefer seeing bad news to good, whatever they may say publicly.
And with the advertising model if not broken, badly dented, then at some point the money will stop. Already the efforts to circumvent adverts is having an effect.
What, then, is the answer? Start paying for using the internet (yes, it’s beginning to happen)? That won’t work for all, as those abused teenagers will find a way of getting access for free (and you can bet your farm that they have bypassed any grown-up attempt at parental control).
It is not an easy situation and the truth is that it is probably too big a problem for any outside force or influence to fix.
Perhaps it will be one of those situations where you leave the ‘wild west’ parts of the internet and social media to destroy themselves. Then the people who want some sort of sanity online will form smaller groups of like-minded people, possibly even with real friends rather than digital ones.
Whatever the answer might be, there is certainly a growing feeling out there that something needs to change.