Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced the launch of WT:Social last week, a social network sprung from the WikiTribune project. In addition to creating the global encyclopedia that your high school teacher won’t let you cite as a source, Wales is also behind the Wikimedia Foundation and the Jimmy Wales Foundation for Freedom of Expression.
WikiTribune is a volunteer-driven platform focused on delivering “neutral, factual, high-quality news.” (There’s a lot that could be said about the ethics and logistics of trying to “fix” news by paying reporters even less/nothing, but that’s another article.)
Springing a social network out of a news site means that WT:Social’s focus is largely going to be on fixing what’s wrong with Facebook’s news. They’ve drawn criticism over the last few years for their news policies.
Among other things, despite theoretically banning white nationalist content, their list of “trusted” news sources includes Breitbart, a site whose founder has called it a platform for the alt-right. (The alt-right itself is a self-avowed white nationalist movement, among other things) Zuckerberg has also (as we’ve pointed out) claimed that politicians have the right to lie in advertisements. Refusing to hold advertisers to any sort of standard of truth is deeply concerning, to say the least.
So WT:Social is out to improve the way that people consume and share news. But is that enough to make it succeed as a social network? After all, people looking for FB or Twitter alternatives aren’t just looking for news. They’re looking for a less toxic platform.
Facebook and Twitter have both received criticism for how they handle user experience and advertisements alike. Both have problems with bubbling extremist movements, and both have struggled with public perception in the wake of persistent allegations that their moderation systems are under-resourced, and tend to side with abusive users over the marginalized people those abusers were targeting. For their part, Twitter has overtly stated that people who violate their terms of service regarding harassment or threats will not be banned for it, so long as they are sufficiently newsworthy.
This might have something to do with the fact that they see some of those same TOS violators as enough of a draw to their platform to feature them in advertisements. And of course, Twitter kept conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars media company on the platform despite rules violations until he confronted CEO Jack Dorsey in person.
One theoretical point in WT:Social’s favor is that they’re planning on being donation-supported, rather than ad-supported. Which is fantastic from an end-user standpoint, but raises issues on buy-in from others. And that’s not the only potential stumbling block in WT:Social’s path.
As yet WT:Social hasn’t really stated a particular interest in competing with Facebook and Twitter on the social aspects of social media, and so far, that lack of interest comes through on the site. This writer signed up for the social network (looking, as ever, for a Facebook alternative) and was greeted by a number of baffling things.
First, my attempts to log in were greeted by a notification that I was “number 65538 on the waiting list,” and that I could send invitations to get earlier access to the site, to make posts.
Then, I made posts.
But now I can’t find them?
Beyond that, I’m not sure what the waiting list is actually for. On top of the mysterious queue, there’s a place where I can subscribe! But once again, I don’t quite know what I would be subscribing to, and $12.99/month is a lot to ask for a service that’s completely undefined. I suppose that I could track down other sources to explain this to me, but if the user experience is so confounding from the outset that I need to learn about it secondhand, do I really want to pursue the site further?
A friend and I, both eager for a Facebook alternative, started writing on each other’s walls to test the service out. But in lieu of any kind of notification system, we found ourselves writing on each other’s WT:Social profiles, and then returning to Facebook to let the other person know that we had done so.
It’s not an auspicious beginning.
But at the same time, something needs to happen. With Facebook’s reputation for promulgating fake news, Twitter’s notoriety for abuse, Reddit’s haze of toxicity, and content hubs like YouTube and Tumblr cracking down on adult content (and seemingly defining the existence of LGBT people as inherently “adult,”) people are looking for some kind of life raft. The person who creates a robust social network that commits to rooting out toxicity could have quite the business opportunity on their hands.
New Pinterest code of conduct pushes for mindful posting
(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social media sites have struggled with harmful content, but Pinterest is using their new code of conduct to encourage better, not just reprimands.
It appears that at least one social media site has made a decision on how to move forward with the basis of their platform. Pinterest has created a brand-new code of conduct for their users. Giving them a set of rules to follow which to some may be a little restricting, but I’m not mad about it. In a public statement, they told the world their message:
“We’re on a journey to build a globally inclusive platform where Pinners around the world can discover ideas that feel personalized, relevant, and reflective of who they are.”
The revamp of their system includes 3 separate changes revolving around the rules of the platform. All of them are complete with examples and full sets of rules. The list is summed up as:
- Pinterest Creator Code
- Pinterest Comment Moderation Tools
- Pinterest Creator Fund
For the Creator Code, Pinterest had this to say: “The Creator Code is a mandatory set of guidelines that lives within our product intended to educate and build community around making inclusive and compassionate content”. The rules are as follows:
- Be Kind
- Check my Facts
- Be aware of triggers
- Practice Inclusion
- Do no harm
The list of rules provides some details on the pop-up as well, with notes like “make sure content doesn’t insult,” “make sure information is accurate,” etc. The main goal of this ‘agreement’, according to Pinterest, is not to reprimand offending people but to practice a proactive and empowering social environment. Other social websites have been shoe-horned into reprimanding instead of being proactive against abuse, and it has been met with mixed results. Facebook itself is getting a great deal of flack about their new algorithm that picks out individual words and bans people for progressively longer periods without any form of context.
Comment Moderation is a new set of tools that Pinterest is hoping will encourage a more positive experience between users and content creators. It’s just like putting the carrot before the donkey to get him to move the cart.
- Positivity Reminders
- Moderation Tools
- Featured Comments
- New Spam Prevention Signals
Sticking to the positivity considerations here seems to be the goal. They seem to be focusing on reminding people to be good and encouraging them to stay that way. Again, proactive, not reactive.
The social platform’s last change is to create a Pinterest Creator Fund. Their aim is to provide training, create strategy consulting, and financial support. Pinterest has also stated that they are going to be aiming these funds specifically at underrepresented communities. They even claim to be committing themselves to a quota of 50% of their Creators. While I find this commendable, it also comes off a little heavy handed. I would personally wait to see how they go about this. If they are ignoring good and decent Creators based purely on them being in a represented group, then I would find this a bad use of their time. However, if they are actively going out and looking for underrepresented Creators while still bringing in good Creators that are in represented groups, then I’m all for this.
Being the change you want to see in the world is something I personally feel we should all strive towards. Whether or not you produced positive change depends on your own goals… so on and so forth. In my own opinion, Pinterest and their new code of conduct is creating a better positive experience here and striving to remind people to be better than they were with each post. It’s a bold move and ultimately could be a spectacular outcome. Only time will tell how their creators and users will respond. Best of luck to them.
Facebook releases Hotline as yet another Clubhouse competitor
(SOCIAL MEDIA) As yet another app emerges to try and take some of Clubhouse’s success, Facebook Hotline adds a slightly more formal video chat component to the game.
Facebook is at it again and launching its own version of another app. This time, the company has launched Hotline, which looks like a cross between Instagram Live and Clubhouse.
Facebook’s Hotline is the company’s attempt at competing with Clubhouse, the audio-based social media app, which was released on iOS in March 2020. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported Facebook had already begun working on building its own version of the app. Erik Hazzard, who joined Facebook in 2017 after the company acquired his tbh app, is leading the project.
The app was created by the New Product Experimentation (NPE) Team, Facebook’s experimental development division, and it’s already in beta testing online. To access it, you can use the web-based application through the platform’s website to join the waitlist and “Host a Show”. However, you will need to sign in using your Twitter account to do so.
Unlike Clubhouse, Hotline lets users also chat through video and not just audio alone. The product is more like a formal Q&A and recording platform. Its features allow people to live stream and hold Q&A sessions with their audiences similar to Instagram Live. And, audience members can ask questions by using text or audio.
Also, what makes Hotline a little more formal than Clubhouse is that it automatically records conversations. According to TechCrunch, hosts receive both a video and audio recording of the event. With a guaranteed recording feature, the Q&A sessions will stray away from the casual vibes of Clubhouse.
The first person to host a Q&A live stream on Hotline is real-estate investor Nick Huber, who is the type of “expert” Facebook is hoping to attract to its platform.
“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “New Product Experimentation has been testing multimedia products like CatchUp, Venue, Collab, and BARS, and we’re encouraged to see the formats continue to help people connect and build community,” the spokesperson added.
According to a Reuters article, the app doesn’t have any audience size limits, hosts can remove questions they don’t want to answer, and Facebook is moderating inappropriate content during its early days.
An app for mobile devices isn’t available yet, but if you want to check it out, you can visit Hotline’s website.
Brace yourselves: Facebook has re-opened political advertising space
(SOCIAL MEDIA) After a break due to misinformation in the past election, Facebook is once again allowing political advertising slots on their platform – with some caveats.
After a months-long ban on political ads due to misinformation and other inappropriate behavior following the election in November, Facebook is planning to resume providing space for political advertising.
Starting on Thursday, March 4th, advertisers were able to buy spots for ads that comprise politics, what Facebook categorizes as “social issues”, and other potentially charged topics previously prohibited by the social media platform.
The history of the ban is complicated, and its existence was predicated on a profound distrust between political parties and mainstream news. In the wake of the 2016 election and illicit advertising activity that muddied the proverbial waters, Facebook had what some would view as a clear moral obligation to prevent similar sediment from clouding future elections.
Facebook delivered on that obligation by removing political advertising from their platform prior to Election Day, a decision that would stand fast in the tumultuous months to follow. And, while Facebook did temporarily suspend the ban in Georgia during the senate proceedings, political advertisements nevertheless remained absent from the platform in large until last week.
The removal of the ban does have some accompanying caveats—namely the identification process. Unlike before, advertisers will have to go to great lengths to confirm their identities prior to launching ads. Those ads will most likely also need to come from domestic agencies given Facebook’s diligent removal of foreign and malicious campaigns in the prior years.
The moral debate regarding social media advertising—particularly on Facebook—is a deeply nuanced and divided one. Some argue that, by removing political advertising across the board, Facebook has simply limited access for “good actors” and cleared the way for illegitimate claims.
Facebook’s response to this is simply that they didn’t understand fully the role ads would play in the electoral process, and that allowing those ads back will allow them to learn more going forward.
Either way, political advertising spots are now open on Facebook, and the overall public perception seems controversial enough to warrant keeping an eye on the progression of this decision. It wouldn’t be entirely unexpected for Facebook to revoke access to these advertisements again—or limit further their range and scope—in the coming months and years.
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