Facebook has hit the headlines again for the wrong reasons. Whistle Blowers are suggesting that it has made decisions that put profit before the safety and wellbeing of its users. The Whistle Blowers suggest that changing the way in which the platform promotes content could be easily implemented, but that there is internal resistance to this as it will result in less controversy, therefore less use and ultimately less profits.
It is difficult to evaluate the merits of these claims because (and the Whistle Blowers make this point) we don’t have access to all the information. Certainly this is something that the governments of the world could assist with. The US congress and the British government inquiries will help but it appears that a more concerted effort to get the information will be required. It is unlikely that all of the information will be offered up voluntarily – which one of us would willingly share information that doesn’t paint us in the best of lights. Particularly in a country such as the US where the population is so divided at the moment.
It seems that social media is capable of delivering so much good and doing so much harm in the same way. Many of us will remember the heady days of the Arab spring where the platform was used to co-ordinate and organise protest. Unfortunately that same platform was able to be used by those in power in Myanmar to incite the genocide of the Rohingya.
Social media allows people to stay in touch and find like-minded people for support. Unfortunately it also allows those that want to spread misinformation to find a home for it and to mislead and deceive those that may not be able to sort the truth from the lies and are too quick to trust.
But all of this is just part of the problem. The debate that I watched over the weekend highlighted an issue for me that has its heart in social media but is also very much a symptom of the age we find ourselves in. Social media has allowed us to express our outrage without needing to necessarily stop and think of the consequences for others. People consider that social media is the modern town square. But unfortunately it doesn’t operate quite like the town square – the people in it are often nameless and faceless. And as a result they feel that they are able to act in a way that they might not choose to if they were likely to be held to account.
This weekend what initially started as a comment from Dave Dobbyn - that negative comments about the non-vaccinated were not helpful - resulted in a bit of a pile on to somebody that is seen by most as a great kiwi. The pile on ceased to be about the issue but more an attack on the person. Since when is this healthy debate?
In fact debate of this nature is only going to make things worse. If we cannot provide a supportive environment in which the issues are discussed then for those that are nervous about issues, such as vaccination, we are only going to drive them to a place where they can feel safe. A place where people show that they are listening to their concerns. Unfortunately it appears that this is a place where people will feed them the misinformation that will only harden their resolve.
Now is the time to build a place where accurate information can be shared and debate can be had.
I’m not sure what the Whistle Blowers have seen as possible, but is now the time to try to link people more closely to their identity so that they are less likely to behave in a manner they would not otherwise behave in public? Is now the time to implement a rating system like you find on say trademe or the ride share apps. Is now the time to implement roles that rate trust – like trip advisor?
If we implemented one of these, will it result in one of the great strengths of the social media being lost? The fact that discussion can be had anonymously, can in some circumstances allow for people to be braver about their misgivings, their fears and their circumstances.
I am not sure what the answer is but we should be considering more closely how we can have a better debate on things without fear of someone attacking us personally. Now is a time to support each other, not tear people down. A time to unite not to divide. We are all feeling a little more remote and disconnected than normal right now thanks to COVID so now is a time to look to change things.
While governments will continue to look to ensure that these platforms are doing the right thing, we should look to do the same. The platforms are only a reflection of what we are asking for and responding to. We should look to set an example, whether it is where we invest, where we spend our time, who we share our information with. And this will hopefully assist in the change I think we are all looking for.
Oh and for what it is worth, I am also double vaccinated and have done so for my own protection, the protection of the ones that I love and for the good of the community.