Social media used to be nice. It used to be where you found stories of your cousins’ holiday and pictures of adorable cats (dogs can be adorable too). Now, it has become a politicised forum where scores are settled and bullies can run free.
TikTok is facing a ban in the US, Facebook is facing down attack after attack – from ‘celebrities’ (get me out of here) to Governments trying to manipulate them into doing what they want, not what users or Facebook want.
Meanwhile, the Facebook family is becoming overblown and increasingly pointless. Sign up to Instagram and it looks like Facebook, with less text. Look at Instagram, then switch to Facebook and you wonder why everything is duplicated.
Snapchat is used as a bullying mechanism and we probably all know kids who have suffered at the hands of bullies on some form of social media.
And, of course, radical groups, fanatics and fanatacists use it to publish anything from terror attacks to beheadings, to riots, to warped versions of the truth.
The cost to the ‘platforms’ is huge. Facebook has tens of thousands of people whose job it is to block filth. Extraordinarily complex algorithms help. They take down hate news and fake news thousands of posts at a time. The people employed end up traumatised by what they see.
And it was all meant to be fun and friendly but it all got caught in the human trap. Unfortunately, humans are not that nice (exceptions apply). If we can manipulate a situation, steer something to our advantage, we do.
Quite where it will end up is not a straightforward issue.
If social media becomes regulated as publishers are, and as Trump would like it to be, then that is an impossible task. Imagine being an editor of a newspaper that had millions of journalists all trying to publish in the same edition. Impossible.
The answer possibly lies in a localisation, not necessarily geographic. There are many forums on social media, moderated by people who rule on what can be posted. For instance, there is one on Corfu, a beautiful island in the Mediterranean. During the pandemic, people would ask ‘where is the best place to visit, the best restaurant’ and after the first few suggestions of beaches and tavernas would come the abuse. ‘Why are you going, you *****, we are in the middle of a pandemic, it is exactly what you should not be doing. You are a complete *****’. And the moderator gives these people a warning and then blocks them.
Whether that is a role for Government or whether there is a window for self-regulation, the future of social media hangs in the balance.