Unsocial media (part 1)

12/12/2017

The growing backlash against the ills of social media generally, and Facebook and Twitter specifically, hit the front pages today following comments from a former Facebook Vice President Chamath Palihapitiya speaking at a Stanford Graduate School of Business event. He talked about the “tremendous guilt” he felt over the creation of the social networking site stating “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

Of course Facebook is predicated on the concept of connecting friends to share their lives with their families and friendship groups: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” The Facebook mission statement admirably reads. Now, it may just be the inevitability of the darker side of human nature, but even on an innocent everyday level users so often slip into a fairly unhealthy mix of gossip, bragging and snooping. This flip side of Facebook brings a pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and the belittling feeling if you can’t. There are countless cases of how social media has contributed to the lack of self-worth experienced by many, often teens, and the consequential issues of lack of confidence, eating disorders, bullying and even suicide.

“We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short term signals – hearts, likes, thumbs up.” Said Chamath. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works leaving users feeling vacant and empty.” He even urged people to take a “hard break from some of these tools”.

Added to this are the broader societal implications which Chamath outlined as he believes Facebook has the power to boost the spread of misinformation and allow people with deeply questionable intentions to manipulate users. He cited an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people, according to reports. And, whilst the whole story is yet to come out, it seems highly probable that Facebook was exploited to influence the outcome of the US election.

“No civil discourse, no co-operation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem – this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.” Said Chamath.

Coincidentally, several of today’s papers are also covering criticism of Twitter by several MPs and child protection organisations after accounts used by self-confessed paedophiles were not closed down – despite the users discussing their distorted cravings online.

“A number of perverts have written that they are ‘non-offending’ and ‘non-contact’ paedophiles and have openly discussed their attraction to young children.” Reports The Daily Mail. “And because they claim they do not act on their urges, they are not committing a crime and are therefore not sanctioned by the social media site. Most of the account holders have used images of cartoons instead of a typical ‘profile picture’ in an apparent bid to entice children.”  The Sun summarises Twitter’s approach: “Because the perverts insist they do not act on their urges Twitter is refusing to shut their accounts claiming no laws are broken.”

This attitude, which can only be described at best as casual, at worst negligent, has drawn a slew of angry responses with Tory MP Andrew Bridgen commenting: “Twitter should not be allowing accounts that defend or normalise the sexualisation of children. They can’t just shrug their shoulders and pretend it’s none of their business. Twitter must suspend the accounts.” Labour MP Yvette Cooper said: “This is very disturbing. How does this fit with Twitter’s community standards?” And Kath Stipala, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: “Child abusers are manipulative. Twitter has been woeful. It needs to get a grip”

Author

Will Bentley