Social Media Mixed Messaging

Figuring out the real information from disinformation/ misinformation can be confusing on any social media platform. Social media companies, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, also struggle to make this determination.

Facebook claims to use algorithms to scan through millions of posts. However, with over 2 billion users, missing even 1% of questionable content is a big deal. It’s also unknown how the algorithm is programmed. Who decides what is questionable?

What about the difference between expressing an opinion and spreading “hate speech”? Some companies claim to ban “hate speech.” Or posts that are perceived to incite violence. Who makes that determination? And how is it enforced? Should we allow others to express their viewpoints even when we don’t agree with them? When is the line crossed between an unpopular opinion and something hateful? It may be obvious in some cases, but language is nuanced.

In library school we learned about collection maintenance. We were taught a good library has at least one thing you find offensive. This doesn’t mean the collection has bad content. It means the collection offers diverse and varied perspectives. Even if you don’t agree with all of them.

Could a library have something like “hate speech” in the collection? Well, they might if it was published from an authentic source and contained information. In other words, if it was verifiable information, as opposed to disinformation.

One big difference between libraries and social media platforms is that the former curates published content. If you find something objectionable in the library catalog, it was still vetted by professionals. Meaning, it was real information, not disinformation/misinformation.

Social media, by contrast, largely acts like a distributer instead of a curator. They’re available for anyone to post his/her thoughts, verified or not. However, social media companies have been forced to rethink how they operate because of recent criticisms.

The first challenge for social media is to figure out what role they play with content. Are they going to be distributers, publishers, or curators? Once that is established, they need to determine what content should be allowed. And finally, how to enforce that, keeping in mind that social media platforms operate across cultures, languages, and countries.

Social media is an influential and popular mode of communication. Social media companies can no longer afford to be mere distributors. Or send mixed messages about the content that is allowed on their platforms.

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