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Should social media continue to self-regulate, or should Uncle Sam step in?

(MEDIA) Should social media platforms be allowed to continue to regulate themselves or should governments continue to step in? Is it an urgency, or a slippery slope?

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Last week, Instagram, Whatsapp, and Facebook suffered a massive outage around the world that lasted for most of the day. In typical Internet fashion, frustrated users took to Twitter to vent their feelings. A common thread throughout all of the dumpster fire gifs was the implication that these social media platforms were a necessary outlet for connecting people with information—as well as being an emotional outlet for whatever they felt like they needed to share.

It’s this dual nature of social media, both as a vessel for content that people consume, as well as a product that they share personal data with (for followers, but also knowing that the data is collected and analyzed by the companies) that confuses people as to what these things actually are. Is social media a form of innovative technology, or is it more about the content, is it media? Is it both?

Well, the answer depends on how you want to approach it.

Although users may say that content is what keeps them using the apps, the companies themselves purport that the apps are technology. We’ve discussed this distinction before, and how it means that the social media giants get to skirt around having more stringent regulation. 

But, as many point out, if the technology is dependent on content for its purpose (and the companies’ profit): where does the line between personal information and corporate data mining lie?

Should social media outlets known for their platform being used to perpetuate “fake news” and disinformation be held to higher standards in ensuring that the information they spread is accurate and non-threatening?

As it currently stands, social media companies don’t have any legislative oversight—they operate almost exclusively in a state of self-regulation.  This is because they are classified as technology companies rather than media outlets.

This past summer, Senator Mark Warner from Virginia suggested that social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, needed regulation in a widely circulated white paper. Highlighting the scandal by Cambridge Analytica which rocked the polls and has underscored the potential of social media to sway real-life policy by way of propaganda,

Warner suggested that lawmakers target three areas for regulation: fighting politically oriented misinformation, protecting user privacy, and promoting competition among Internet markets that will make long-term use of the data collected from users.

Warner isn’t the only person who thinks that social media’s current state of self-regulation unmoored existence is a bit of a problem, but the problem only comes from what would be considered a user-error: The people using social media have forgotten that they are the product, not the apps.

Technically, many users of social media have signed their privacy away by clicking “accept” on terms and conditions they haven’t fully read.* The issues of being able to determine whether or not a meme is Russian propaganda isn’t a glitch in code, it’s a way to exploit media illiteracy and confirmation bias.

So, how can you regulate human behavior? Is it on the tech companies to try and be better than the tendencies of the people who use them? Ideally they wouldn’t have to be told not to take advantage of people, but when people are willingly signing up to be taken advantage of, who do you target?

It’s a murky question, and it’s only going to get trickier to solve the more social media embeds itself into our culture.

*Yes, I’m on social media and I blindly clicked it too! He who is without sin, etc.

AprilJo Murphy is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. She is a writer, editor, and sometimes teacher based in Austin, TX who enjoys getting outdoors with her handsome dog, Roan.

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Social Media

Instagram announces 3 home feed options, including chronological order

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Instagram is allowing users to choose how their home feed appears so they can tailor their own experience… and chronological is back!

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Instagram home feed options

Break out the bottle of champagne, because they are bringing back the chronological order in Instagram!

About time, right? Well, that’s not all. Per Protocol, Instagram has announced that they are rolling out three feed options in the first half of 2022. What?! Yes, you read that right.

3 New Feed View Options

  1. Home: This feed view should feel familiar because it’s the algorithm you already use. No changes to this view.
  1. Favorites: This feed view option presents a nice and tidy way to view creators, friends, and family of your choosing.
  1. Following: Last, but not least, is my favorite re-boot, the chronological view of every account that you follow.

Per Protocol, recent legal allegations have been made that Instagram and Facebook have been prioritizing content viewed as harmful in the algorithm and specifically in Instagram. Instagram is widely believed to be harmful to teens. Per the American Psychological Association, “Studies have linked Instagram to depression, body image concerns, self-esteem issues, social anxiety, and other problems”.  They have been under scrutiny by lawmakers and in response are posing the chronological feed as a solution.

However, this won’t fix everything. Even if the algorithm isn’t prioritizing harmful posts, those posts will still exist and if that account is followed it can still be seen. The other issue with this solution is the knowledge that unless Instagram lets you choose your default feed view, they could still cause the algorithm view to be the automatic view. Facebook doesn’t allow you to make the chronological feed your default view. This means you would need to choose that view every time. This bit of friction means there will be times it is overlooked and some may not even know the functionality exists. Knowing this information about Facebook, prepares us for what’s to come with Instagram. After all, Facebook, or Meta, owns both.

While as an entrepreneur, the chronological view excites me, I know the reality of it being used is questionable. I would love to know others can see the products and services I offer instead of hoping that Instagram finds my content worthy to share in the algorithm.

As a human being with a moral conscience, I have to scream, “C’mon Instagram, you CAN do better!” We all deserve better than having a computer pick what’s shown to us. Hopefully, lawmakers will recognize this band-aid quick fix for what it truly is and continue with making real changes to benefit us all.

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Facebook’s targeting options for advertising are changing this month

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Do you market your business on Facebook? You need to know that their targeting options for ads are changing and what to do about it.

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Laptop on lap open to Facebook page representing ad targeting.

Meta is transforming Facebook’s ad campaigns beginning January 19th. Facebook, which has been infamously battling criticism regarding election ads on their platform, is revising its limited targeting ad campaigns. Per this Facebook blog post, these changes eliminate the ability to target users based on interactions with content related to health (e.g., “Lung cancer awareness”, “World Diabetes Day”), race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religious practices (e.g., “Catholic Church” and “Jewish holidays”) and sexual orientation (e.g., “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT culture”).

These changes go into effect on January 19, 2022. Facebook will no longer allow new ads to use these targeting tools after that date. By March 17, 2022, any existing ads using those targeting tools will no longer be allowed.

The VP of Ads and Business Product Marketing at Facebook, Graham Mudd, expressed the belief that personalized ad experiences are the best, but followed up by stating:

“[W]e want to better match people’s evolving expectations of how advertisers may reach them on our platform and address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers, and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options we make available.”

To help soften the blow, Facebook is offering tips and examples for small businesses, non-profits, and advocacy groups to continue to reach their audiences that go beyond the broad targeting of gender and age.

These tips include creating different types of targeting such as Engagement Custom Audiences, Lookalike Audiences, Website Custom Audiences, Location Targeting, and Customer Lists from a Custom Audience.

Here’s the lowdown on how it will happen.

Per the Search Engine Journal, changes can be made to budget amounts or campaign names without impacting the targeting until March 17th. However, if you go to change the ad set level that will then cause changes at the audience level.

If you need to keep that particular ad to reuse, it may be best to edit the detailed targeting settings before March 17th in order to ensure you can make changes to it in the future.

I believe it was Heraclitus that declared change is constant. Knowing this, we can conclude other social platforms may follow suit and possibly adjust their targeting in the future as well.

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Hate speech seemingly spewing on your Facebook? You’re not wrong

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook (now Meta) employees estimate its AI tools only clean up 3%-5% of hate speech on the platform. Surprise, Surprise *eye roll*

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Facebook being crossed out by a stylus on a mobile device for hate speech.

As Facebook moves further toward Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, concerns about the efficiency with which the company addresses hate speech still remain, with employees recently estimating that only around 2% of offending materials are removed by Facebook’s AI screening tools.

According to Wall Street Journal, internal documents from Facebook show an alarming inability to detect hate speech, violent threats, depictions of graphic content, and other “sensitive” issues via their AI screening. This directly contradicts predictions made by the company in the past.

A “senior engineer” also admitted that, in addition to removing only around 2% of inappropriate material, the odds of that number reaching even a numerical majority is extremely unlikely: “Recent estimates suggest that unless there is a major change in strategy, it will be very difficult to improve this beyond 10-20% in the short-medium term.”

The reported efficacy of the AI in question would be laughable were the situation less dire. Reports ranging from AI confusing cockfights and car crashes to inaccurately identifying a car wash video as a first-person shooting are referenced in the internal documents, while far more sobering imagery–live-streamed shootings, viscerally graphic car wrecks, and open threats of violence against transgender children–went entirely unflagged.

Even the system in which the AI works is a source of doubt for employees. “When Facebook’s algorithms aren’t certain enough that content violates the rules to delete it, the platform shows that material to users less often—but the accounts that posted the material go unpunished,” reports Wall Street Journal.

AI has repeatedly been shown to struggle with bias as well. Large Language Models (LLMs)–machine-learning algorithms that inform things like search engine results and predictive text–have defaulted to racist or xenophobic rhetoric when subjected to search terms like “Muslim”, leading to ethical concerns about whether or not these tools are actually capable of resolving things like hate speech.

As a whole, Facebook employees’ doubts about the actual usefulness of AI in removing inappropriate material (and keeping underage users off of the platform) paint a grim portrait of the future of social media, especially as the Metaverse marches steadily forward in mainstream consumption.

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