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Corporate Responsibility: Social Media Platforms Confront Disinformation, Sort Of
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Corporate Responsibility: Social Media Platforms Confront Disinformation, Sort Of - Executive Leadership Articles

Corporate Responsibility: Social Media Platforms Confront Disinformation, Sort Of

Executive Leadership Articles

Corporate Responsibility: Social Media Platforms Confront Disinformation, Sort Of

In the wake of seemingly ubiquitous reports of government agencies using social media platforms to sow discord and uncertainty, the question has been a mainstay in public discourse for the past couple of years: what responsibility do the platforms have about what is communicated through the commercial services they offer? Many social media networks published user agreements about hate speech and some types of exploitative content, but what about massive numbers of bot accounts simply broadcasting and sharing divisive content, perhaps falling into the safe zones of free speech?

A permissive view would suggest that the platform is neutral and it’s not the platform’s fault how it gets used. If its users cared about bad info, they wouldn’t follow bots—because it’s true now as it has always been on social media: you only follow who you want to follow. A restrictive point of view would say that allowing irresponsible use of a property makes the property owner liable for any negative consequences that might emerge. You wouldn’t let kids run around in your yard with swords and hatchets, so you ought not to let people with bad intentions run around on your social network with the metaphorical equivalent.

The platforms have announced over the past few years steps they’ve taken to curtail abusive behavior, but depending on whom you ask, it seems not to be enough. This is why recent declarations by the networks are worth paying attention to. Instagram announced it will block anti-vaccine hashtags in an effort to quell the spread of misinformation. Facebook is rejecting ads spreading vaccine-related misinformation as it discovers them, and pushing anti-vaccine pages down in the page rankings so they won’t appear near the top of searches. Pinterest is blocking anti-vaccine-related content from its site, and GoFundMe is rejecting fundraising projects with anti-vaccine content. YouTube is banning anti-vaccination channels from running ads (and therefore earning money). Even Amazon, not a social network but a retailer, says it is pulling books touting anti-vaccine content.

The big question is whether or not this is a step toward even more content moderation, and if it is, where will the lines be drawn? The argument could be made that conversation about smoking and drinking are public health issues: should this content be banned as well? And at what point do differences of opinion become harmful disinformation?

In response, many have thrown the word “censorship” around, along with “First Amendment,” but while this kind of content moderation is certainly censorship, these are decisions by businesses, not governments, and have nothing to do with curtailing free speech any more than we would for asking people to leave our homes if they didn’t speak in civil tones.

The anti-vaccine issue seems to be a well-chosen test of the platforms’ willingness and ability to keep the use of their services to responsible discourse. How their users respond and how effective their efforts are may decide when and how they point toward more proactive steps by social networks in remaining viable businesses, providing the experience their customers expect, and being responsible members of the community. We will all stay tuned.

Reference links:
Facebook announcement: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2019/03/combatting-vaccine-misinformation
TheHill: https://thehill.com/policy/technology/435207-instagram-to-block-anti-vaccine-hashtags-amid-misinformation-crackdown

 

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Corporate Responsibility: Social Media Platforms Confront Disinformation, Sort Of - Executive Leadership Articles

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