In some ways, this whole social media familiarization course that we’re on is like what my son used to describe as a “circle story.”
In other words, it’s a narrative that lands you – after some asides, twists and turns – right back where you started. You may have learned something new or experienced some change in perspective, but the landscape is pretty much the same.
So it goes for me, at this point. I WANT to understand and ultimately embrace social media at whatever level seems best, most comfortable for me. I understand that I need to do this in order to remain part of the society I live in. I WANT to remain an active, contributing member of my culture. I don’t want to be the dinosaur, unable to adapt and left behind.
But another part of me remains fearful and doubtful. For all the benefits and remarkable positive results I learn about, there are at least as many horror stories that have come into sharp focus. Where is the balance: who or what is driving and/or regulating this beast that has emerged as the worldwide social media phenomenon?
One thing that gives me faint hope is the challenging public debate now emerging about the governance and oversight of social media. Various media reports of recent weeks have talked about several such events.
For example, Facebook is repeatedly being called to task by the German government for its handling of numerous examples of hate speech (see ‘Germany’s fight against Facebook hate’, in the Sun. Dec. 4/16 edition of the Toronto Star – an article that originated in The New York Times).
Google is going to the Supreme Court of Canada soon to fight a court order that directed it to remove from its search engine results a company that had been selling online the patented research technology of a competitor Canadian company, Equustek Solutions based in British Columbia. Google’s position is that it can’t be called upon to be an enforcer on the Internet: it is just a search engine in this case. This is a new area for the Supreme Court, so observers in many camps are watching closely.
There’s also the uproar about Facebook and “fake news” that was posted during the recent presidential election campaign in the United States. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to growing public outcry over “fake” news on the site with new measures to cut down on misinformation posted by dubious sources. His seven-point plan includes stronger detection measures, verification of third-party sources by fact-checking organizations, possible warning notices and flagging of suspect stories by either third parties or members of the Facebook community. Specifics have yet to be spelled out, but it’s a start.
If we can keep challenging what we know is wrong, keep forcing pushback against the digital and multimedia giants with widespread, open debate then maybe – just maybe – we can turn the worst elements of this information-sharing explosion around.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a prominent Protestant pastor in Germany, wrote after the First World War: “First they came for the Socialists…”
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.