Jason Morgese is the founder and CEO of Leavemark, the first ad-free hybrid of data storage and social media.
"The Social Dilemma" opens eyes to Netflix bingers around the world and changes digital life. The filmmakers examine social media and its impact on society, and raise some key points about its mental health implications, politics, and the myriad of ways companies use user data. It will tie together interviews from industry executives and developers, discussing how social websites can manipulate human psychology to deepen the engagement and time spent on the platforms.
Despite the obvious problems associated with social media platforms, people still crave digital attention, especially during a pandemic when personal connections are strained, if not impossible.
How can the industry change for the better? Here are three ways social media should adapt to create happier and healthier interpersonal connections and messaging.
On most platforms like Facebook and Instagram determines the company some of the information presented to users. This opens the platform for manipulation by bad actors and raises questions about who exactly is dictating what information is seen and which is not. What are the reasons for these decisions? And some of the platforms deny their role in this process. Mark Zuckerberg said in 2019, "I firmly believe Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of the truth about everything people say online."
The censorship can be lifted with a restructured social platform. For example, imagine a platform that doesn't rely on advertising costs. When a social platform is free to basic users but monetized through a subscription model, there is no need to use an information gathering algorithm to determine what news and content will be served to users.
This type of platform is not a ripe target for tampering as users only see information from people they know and trust, not advertisers or random third parties. Tampering with major social channels is common when users create zombie accounts to flood content with fake "Likes" and "Views" to influence the content displayed. It is often presented as an election meddling tactic, where agents use social media to encourage false statements. This type of action is a fundamental flaw of social algorithms that use AI to decide when and what to censor and what to promote.
Don't treat users like products
The questions raised by "The Social Dilemma" should reinforce the need for social platforms to self-regulate their content and user dynamics and to act ethically. They should review their most manipulative technologies that cause isolation, depression, and other problems, and instead find ways to encourage community, progressive action, and other positive traits.
A major change that will be required to achieve this is to eliminate or reduce in-platform advertising. An ad-free model means the platform doesn't have to aggressively push unwanted content from unwanted sources. If ads are the main driver for a platform, the social enterprise has a vested interest in using every psychological and algorithmic trick to keep the user on the platform. It is a numbers game that brings users profit.
More people multiplied by more time on the site means ad exposure and retention, and that means revenue. An ad-free model frees a platform from attempting to evoke emotional responses based on a user's previous actions in order to keep them trapped on the website, potentially on an addictive level.
Promote links without clickbait
A common form of clickbait can be found on the typical social search page. A user clicks an image or preview video that suggests a specific content type. However, when clicked these are redirected to unrelated content. This technique can be used to spread misinformation. This is particularly dangerous for viewers who rely on social platforms for news consumption rather than traditional outlets. According to the Pew Research Center, 55% of adults get their messages "often" or "sometimes" through social media. This creates a significant problem when clickbait articles make it easier to advertise distorted "fake news".
Unfortunately, when users engage in clickbait content, they are effectively voting for that information. This seemingly harmless act creates a financial reason for others to create and distribute more clickbaits. Social media platforms should aggressively ban or restrict clickbait. The management of Facebook and other companies often counter with an argument of "freedom of speech" when it comes to stopping clickbait. However, you should keep in mind that it is not intended to act as censors stopping controversial issues, but rather to protect users from false content. It's about maintaining trust and exchanging information. This is much easier when the content of posts is backed by facts.
“The Social Dilemma” is rightly an important film that promotes an important dialogue about the role of social media and social platforms in everyday life. The industry needs to change to create more engaging and real spaces where people can connect without immersing themselves in human psychology.
A big task, but one that should benefit both users and platforms in the long term. Social media continues to create important digital connections and acts as a catalyst for positive change and discussion. It is time platforms took note of and accountable for these required changes, and opportunities arise for smaller, emerging platforms taking a different, less manipulative approach.