No amount of rebranding can absolve social media companies.
In spite of what a long line of Hollywood blockbusters have led us to believe, almost nothing is ever all good or all bad.
Everything has a price, everything has a cost; no good deed goes unpunished; every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The results of the things we do or don’t do are often so complicated and far-reaching, we can’t possibly predict all the effects of our actions.
That doesn’t stop us from trying.
The internet, and social media in particular, like the printing press and internal combustion engine before it, probably created as many problems as it solved- maybe more.
Information and technology are more plentiful than ever, sure; but internet thieves are experiencing a golden age of crime because the people using all these sophisticated new resources are just as gullible as ever.
We know what all our old high school and college mates are doing, but the impact of social media on vulnerable populations, like teenagers, is a bit scary. To say nothing of its impact on the rest of the social-media scrolling masses.
Most people don’t feel comfortable speaking their minds and voicing their opinions; others feel entirely too comfortable. That these groups are almost directly inverse from each other in comparison to 20 years ago is no consolation to the majority of us who are, as ever, caught in the middle.
A philosopher thought wise once said, “to know all, is to forgive all.” The French have long put it this way: “Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner.”
The naive sentiment has endured well into the modern age.
“I thought once we could all freely exchange ideas, the world would automatically become a better place,” echoed one founder of Twitter. “I was wrong about that.”
The problems with those freely-exchanged ideas is that we often think we know all, but we never do- not really. The story isn’t over, the last chapter hasn’t been written, not from our viewpoint at any rate.
Those most convinced they know all are usually incorrect more often than the rest of humanity. Fools are completely sure of themselves; the wise, as others have lamented throughout history, are full of doubt.
Of the revelations of the past two tumultuous years- and there have been some- one of the most eye-popping for many people has been the true nature of humanity.
COVID-19 pierced our echo chambers. We now know much more about the people with whom we share our work spaces, faith communities, shopping malls and supermarkets than perhaps we should- or at least, we think we do.
Humans can be quite an interesting bunch.
Do people contradict themselves? We contain multitudes. Differences in how we look are merely the tip of the iceberg; where human beings really diverge most from one another, and in ways that defy classification and stereotyping, is in how differently we all think.
Within the past two years, a clearer picture of the United States population has emerged. Within that picture, we’ve had to confront viewpoints which are so alien to our own that we heretofore hadn’t even imagined their existence.
And probably vice versa.
Forget wearing masks or vaccinating themselves: People still drive drunk, abuse their children, steal things. They lie, cheat, abuse drugs and alcohol.
They kill people. And no matter what you’ve seen on tv about stranger killings, murderers usually kill the people closest to them.
Even people who aren’t criminals do other things that don’t make sense, like pay $65,000 to hunt a giraffe. Clerks at department stores sometimes complain of customers relieving themselves in the fitting rooms.
Some people are rude, ill-tempered, maladjusted, mad at the world and everybody in it. Some are just having a bad day.
It is (mostly) the rise of social media which has revealed this home truth to so many naive souls who before were blissfully unaware of humanity’s less harmonious aspects- that is, the existence of people who seem to be an equal and opposite reaction, an anathema, to themselves.
The titans of the tech and social media world are not immune to these sensibilities. They were just as taken aback as anyone by what peeling back the curtain during COVID-19 revealed.
Which is why it is no surprise that social media companies are now drowning in a sea of over-moderation, censorship and politicking.
Of course Facebook has a favored list of celebrities, politicians, and other luminaries who aren’t subjected to the same censorious scrutiny as everyone else; tell us something we don’t know. Of course Facebook promotes some content while consigning other content to the dustbins of the internet.
That doing so, along with more and more noticeable levels of bias and narrative, is creating a dangerous situation for the very politicians these authorities are trying to get elected is being ignored.
When everyone is saying one thing, the one person willing to break rank and say something else is going to get the most attention. Witness the popularity, and $uccess of Joe Rogen, Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, and Glenn Greenwald.
The social media and internet masters of the universe are increasingly seeing themselves not as purveyors of an online forum but as arbiters of the public good- cultural and political gatekeepers committed to creating a better world; the ultimate content moderators, having attained a height of which the censorious old book burners of Ancient Greece would have been envious.
The true content moderators, save them, are those underpaid, unsung heroes of the internet who prevent the worst of humanity from rearing its ugly head any more often than it does. Snuff films, torture, sex trafficking, beheading videos, the exploitation of children around the world- keeping these things off the internet is a difficult job, but someone still has to do it.
These content moderators frequently suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, and no one stays in the job very long.
None of us needs to work very hard to imagine the kinds of things these people have to see- so the rest of us, and our children, never have to see it.
If Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey really care so much about humanity, they should donate their salaries to these real super-heroes- rather than making them sue for damages.
The content most in need of removing from the internet is the savior complexes of social media tech companies and search engine operators. No matter how hard they try, they are bound to get it wrong and create more problems than they solve.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)