Imagine if McDonald’s started selling beef in India. A private company doing its own thing. They sell it in most places in the world right? No. They are bound by the law of the land. They respect the law and operate within its confines.
So why should social media platforms be given a pass? Social media platforms have a monopoly over our conversations. They are the de-facto places of exchange of ideas – a vital element of democracy. The meltdown over Musk buying Twitter proves that such platforms need to be governed better. What are social media platforms? Arbiter of the truth? A medium to say what you want? A mode of dissent?
When everyone has a microphone, the noise to signal ratio is skewed, leading to massive misinformation and overall dysfunction. That’s one side effect of equal opportunity communication. Does that mean we go back to those days of no speech for the small guy? No.
Calling Twitter a private company to justify its actions is a dangerous and slippery slope. Hence the freakout over Musk’s impending takeover. The powers that be know fully well the true power of Twitter is not giving people a microphone, it is taking it away!
A larger question is, what is the role of corporations in determining our culture? If they are supposed to “be on the right side of current affairs and history”, how do we know they won’t use that power in the future to side with the “bad guys”.
The reality of social media
Social media is a circus. And the biggest clowns win. Words and content that poke our deepest emotions of anger, humour, disgust and ecstacy rise to the very top. We live in a post truth world. The advantage of living with limited sources of information was that we had strongly set narratives that everyone more or less agreed to. We had good guys and bad guys well defined by the powers that be. Today more than ever, perception is the truth. We can try and explain our point of view as much as we want, but people will believe what they want to.
I don’t mourn the loss of Donald Trump on social platforms. I mourn the banning of the POTUS. Whatever were his shortcomings, snatching his microphone was against the social contract of the United States. And a veiled threat to every other leader that this weapon could be used against them.
The New York Post had released a story on the current POTUS that was scuttled just before a general election in the most influential country in the world. Not just that, the NY Post’s Twitter account was banned! That’s an incredible overreach and blatant election interference.
A free for all?
Does that mean we let anyone say anything? What about racial slurs and targeted harassment? Should that be allowed? No. Just like the law of the land, there must be moderation of bad behaviour. There must be guidelines over personal attacks. Safety of users is paramount.
The way forward
We need social media platforms to let information flow while ensuring there’s no call for violence, personal insults and application of their personal cultural norms. Follow the law of the land and conduct your business to sell advertising space to a bunch of eyeballs. That’s what you are. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you are anything more than that.
Because if you do, you’re in the game of determining reality. And that’s a dangerous game to play in today’s climate. Don’t be the self proclaimed determinants of what’s true and what’s not.
The end goal must be more equal opportunities in terms of having a voice, social mobility and quality of life. Technology must aid us, not rule us.
The Terminator was a good movie, not a playbook for our future.