BONUS: The Dark Side of Social Media

Description:

TSR talks social media, freedom of speech, and whether platforms should be regulated.

Summary:

The Socially Remote continues their conversation with Grumpy Dan by discussing freedom of speech and whether social media has an obligation to regulate content. And then, one week later, Twitter censors Trump! Come listen to our conversation about the dark side of social media before it actually became relevant!

The Podcast:

Foreword to the Dark Side of Social Media

This is a special bonus episode specifically to discuss the censorship of user content by the various social media platforms through their respective community rules or polices.  Grumpy Dan from Deck the Hallmark also joins us on this episode. For more information about who Dan is, please listen to Episode 4.

Since we recorded this episode on 5/19/2020, there has been a flurry of activity on this subject.

First, our tweet-in-chief, President Trump, tweeted concerns about the potential for voter fraud if mail-in voting is allowed this November.  In response, Twitter flagged the tweet with a “Get the Facts about mail-in ballots” message and a link. The link directed Twitter readers to a CNN/Politico story offering a contrary position.  This is the first known time Twitter has actively confronted a political opinion with a contrary position. 

Second, given the news coverage on this, Facebook released a statement through Mark Zuckerberg. The statement indicated that they had no intention of acting similarly. The statement further revealed that they did not see themselves as the “arbiter of truth,” in such discussions on their platform.

Finally, on Thursday May 28 2020, President Trump signed an executive order in an attempt to limit the broad legal protection which federal law provides online platforms if they unfairly censor a user’s speech.  The constitutionality of such an order is certainly questionable. However, the President and Attorney General signaled support for further legislation amending Section 230. Section 230 provides these platforms protection of liability in censoring content (Matt briefly alludes to this legislation during the episode). 

We hope you find our discussion helpful as you examine the overall efficacy of social media use.


Bonus Content – the Dark Side of Social Media

Introduction

The guys go into an extended session with Grumpy Dan about the dark side of social media. Namely, that there are a few, very powerful companies that are curating what is seen and how we interact with their medium. And many of those companies are using our data to make billions of dollars. Additionally, those companies are often setting the tenor of the conversation by censoring what is allowed on their platforms. The community rules and other terms we accept for social media allow a broad brush when it comes to censorship on their platforms.

Backing into the Conversation

Do these entities have any responsibility or, conversely, any right to take things down that are known fallacies (or known to be incorrect)? The problem is that each of these companies has an ideology. If we go too far in either direction (right or responsibility), we open ourselves up to a lot of abuse.

We need to be very careful when we allow a cultural entity to determine what they think should be censored. A recent example involves Google’s decision to remove any content from YouTube that disagrees with the current positions taken by the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in the deletion of two California doctors’ opinions about COVID-19 based on their clinical experience treating patients with the virus . You can read more about this here or here.

So the real question is, are people comfortable signing away their freedom of speech (i.e. if you post on this platform, you’re allowed to be censored)? It seems as though many believe they should be able to say whatever they want, but they also think businesses should have the right to determine who says what and where. And you can’t have both things. Ultimately, this boils down to whether we’re going to censor people (right) or censor a business (responsibility)?

The dark side of social media is that, in addition to being able to censor their users, they also have all their user’s data. So what users see can be individually curated and the curator can silence any voices that might disagree with that curation.

A Question of Freedom

It seems, then, that the fear is in the freedom. That doesn’t mean we get rid of freedom. But both sides of the coin take away freedoms. So which freedom should be limited? Do these companies have a responsibility to maintain an agreed upon level of civility? Ben Franklin once said something like “those who are willing to trade liberty for security should have neither.” But this statement is idealistic at best, because everyone trades liberty for security to some degree (even Franklin). Ever since the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1898, businesses have been held to a social responsibility (similar to a social contract between citizen and government). Namely by being held accountable for libel and slander. But social media turns this into a gray area, because their business is essentially letting people say whatever they want.

So what is a company like Facebook or Twitter to do? Ultimately, you can’t stop individuals from propagating lies about themselves, but you can and should stop individuals from propagating lies and misinformation about known truth. Admittedly, social media doesn’t do a great job with that. But just because they’re not doing it well, does not mean they shouldn’t do it. Taking away that responsibility from the companies would be worse than having them doing it incorrectly.

A Social Responsibility

Who ultimately gets to define the truth content that will be allowable on social media? Unfortunately without absolute truth, this becomes an exercise in pragmatic relativism. And that is the ultimate concern. Who is drawing these lines? Are we really comfortable with YouTube, Facebook, et. al. being the arbiter of truth (which, coincidentally, Facebook just said they are not)? These companies have a responsibility to remove slander and libel. And they should be overseeing that themselves. When that doesn’t happen, the people who have always gain an advantage over those who have not. When that does happen, hopefully what’s “right” is not also vaguely aligned with revenue.

The Fine Print

We’d encourage you to pull the various policies on the social media websites and read them. Our consent to these agreements gives big tech companies a lot of leeway to do as they wish with our data (including censor it). We’re raising this issue, because it’s something people don’t often think about. We don’t have the answers, but we want people to think deeply about these things.


Conclusion

And you can reach out to us by emailing us at hello@thesociallyremote.com.


Links and Stuff

The Podcast

Thanks for reading about this episode, and don’t forget to listen on:

Check out our website, TheSociallyRemote.com, for all the current happenings. And join us on our next episode, where we will continue to talk about social media and our response to it.

About The Socially Remote

Does it ever seem like the longer you adult, the less social you become? The responsibilities of being a spouse, a parent, and an employee often leave us with little time for meaningful interaction outside our home and office. As a result, many of us aren’t even remotely social. We try to fill the void with outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but we soon discover social media isn’t as social as it sounds. And the effort we put into soliciting likes and comments doesn’t produce stronger relationships with other people like we’d hoped.

This podcast is an attempt by a pastor, a lawyer, and a generalist to combat the growing culture of social isolation by making time for meaningful conversations about life, theology, and the church. We want to create space in our lives to engage in regular discussion and debate with those around us, and we hope this podcast will encourage you to do the same.

So join Matt, David, and Steven as we take a deep dive on the issues that matter to us and try to put real conversation back in its rightful place.

We are The Socially Remote.

Learn More and Reach Out

If you want to know more about the hosts, check out their bios and links to outside work, here.

Got a show idea or feedback? Contact us at hello@thesociallyremote.com

For the Lawyers

Legal Disclaimer: The views expressed on this podcast belong solely to the individuals expressing them and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of their respective employers.

Deep Dive segment introduction from “Dive” by Steven Curtis Chapman on the Speechless album. Used with permission courtesy of the Stable Collective.

About the Author
Steven Halbert is a husband, father, son, and brother. He has held various roles in children and family service organizations and currently works as a product manager for an industrial manufacturer. He enjoys teaching adult Sunday school, which is where the idea for his book - The Relational God - materialized. He has an associate degree in Bible and a master's degree in English; and he blogs about business, relationships, and the church at stevenhalbert.com

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