I’m wondering if this is a turning point for Social Media. There’s a confluence of factors that are starting to bite. And it doesn’t look like it will ease up anytime soon.

Firstly, regulation and accountability. Governments and Civil Society are interested in making platforms more accountable for the outputs of the various algorithms used by the latter. It’s no longer enough to wave their hands and say, “look over there” people want real analysis and accountability.

For example, look at this lawsuit as reported by Ars Technica.

"Research tells us that excessive and problematic use of social media is harmful to the mental, behavioural, and emotional health of youth and is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and suicide."

Secondly, the ownership and centralisation of Social Media have come to the fore through the abject stupidity of how Elmo handled the Twitter takeover and subsequent (mis)management.

It was firing many people that provided, albeit limited, accountability and balance had nearly disastrous consequences, echoing much of the popular delusion that sparked the January 6 storming of the Capitol. There is much scrutiny around what role Social Media played in this.

This has provoked a mass exodus of technology journalists, enthusiasts, experts and academics to invest more time and effort in Mastodon. It remains to be seen if it reaches critical mass to ensure its survival in this new form. For the record, Mastodon will continue regardless, but it may return to being a modern-day equivalent of the BBS of yore.

Thirdly, the polarised populations are now becoming poorer through global economic mismanagement and exploitation by populism that has ripened the world for autocrats and extremists to seize their opportunity to amass decisive power. See above.

Recent reports suggest Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election and likely others, but the analysis is too little too late. It does, however, suggest deeper scrutiny is on the horizon. I would guess that newer tools will make this quicker and simpler to use, to the point where near real-time analysis of the effects of Social Media is possible. Those best placed for this are the Social Media companies themselves. Not in any “police the police” sense. More being compelled and scrutinised by an independent body. Facebook’s Oversight Board is a start but pathetically reductive and free from real scrutiny.

But most importantly, and possibly one of the only easy-to-implement chances we have to correct this path, cutting off the oxygen to these platforms. Ad money. Unregulated and uncontrolled advertising poisons everything.

Advertisers are starting to wake up to this and are wincing at the things they and their products are being associated with algorithmically and uncontrollably. And they’re not happy.

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/126219c4-5ac0-4c8b-996c-307c24a4cd61 (Paywalled)

I think we can look forward to greater scrutiny and a wholesale effort to reign in these platforms.

10 January 2023 — French West Indies