The hanging of social media

0
4

FILE- In this Feb. 21, 2016, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2016 event in Barcelona, Spain. Breaking more than four days of silence, Zuckerberg admitted mistakes and outlined steps to protect user data in light of a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm. Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page Wednesday, March 21, 2018, that Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data. (AP Photo/Manu Fernadez, File)

It has not been a good year for social media platforms. Of course, the outcries of their addictiveness and FOMO-inducing tendencies have always been up for debate, but never before have multiple platforms been called upon for conspiracy as some are now. Ranging from incompetent to negligent to malicious, the insults hurled at social media have not been without merit. As will be discussed later on, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others have been under fire on an almost weekly basis.

Of course, I myself have not been innocent. I have written on the dangerous allure of social platforms, as well as Facebook’s misdeeds in particular. And yet, even I cannot help but feel a bit bad for the companies. The tasks each website has been given to fix their problems feels a bit unreasonable given the scope of data they receive.

Take YouTube, for example. This video streaming service faces the problem of curating and giving advertisements to well over 400 hours of video per minute. Partly on the back of public outcry over advertisements on unsavory videos, YouTube implemented a machine learning algorithm to comb through videos to decide whether a video is fit for monetization. Now, there is a common anger among people about harmless videos getting demonetized while harmful videos (like one alleging victims of the Parkland shooting to be crisis actors) slip through and get promoted. Despite constant fixes to the algorithm and live moderators being hired, problems like these keep cropping up.

Twitter has also had to deal with the problems of big data. Twitter has increasingly become a platform for political discourse, especially with the president’s tendency to make statements through it. Unsurprisingly, 280 characters is often not the best to convey complex political issues. In fact, it is quite the opposite: eye-catching but false information is more successful on social media.

As such, Twitter has had the problem of botting and malicious use by foreign agents. There is increasing evidence that Russian-led groups wrote and promoted misleading arguments in the 2016 presidential election. Now, no one can be sure if the opinions read on the website are legitimately held, and there is much suspicion everywhere. Twitter itself has been called upon to prevent this abuse of their platform, but the best they have done is periodically delete accounts known to be automated bots.

The most egregious of these social media platforms, though, has to be Facebook. In addition to promoting fake news during the 2016 election, Facebook has been in the news recently for their complicity with Cambridge Analytica, a company that used Facebook profiles to create demographics information for political candidates. The specifics of this case are still being uncovered, but it is worth noting that the information Cambridge Analytica received was legitimately obtained. Facebook’s willful ignorance to the situation is concerning, but the reports calling this a “data breach” on Facebook’s part is hyperbolic, to say the least.

The examples go on and on, from Reddit having a similar botting problem as Twitter to Snapchat’s advertisement mishap with Rihanna. Of course, none of these brands are innocent; there has been a common thread of opaqueness from these companies as well as a surprising lack of human input to their systems. In fact, the blind eye that some (like Facebook) have shown to the abuses of their platforms is alarming to say the least.

However, I do also feel a certain amount of sympathy for them. Social media companies are given a herculean task, as the amount of data they must sort through and curate is unimaginable. Twitter receives an estimated 6,000 tweets per second. As mentioned before, YouTube gets 300 hours of video per minute. Facebook has nearly 2 billion users on its site every month. There is no way this amount of data can be moderated by people.

And so, social media platforms are put between a rock and a hard place. Do they dump human resources into people to stem the flow of unsightly content, or do they let the algorithm take the wheel, resulting in many cracks for content to slip through? I do not think there is a good answer to this question on the companies’ ends. For the user, though, the message is clear: social media is not to be trusted. Sensitive material can appear without warning, and any information may be false. Perhaps these platforms were always destined to fall under their own weight, and now it is our job to hang them for it.


Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.

Leave a Reply