Social media platforms promised to be the platforms that would connect the world and make the world smaller. They have, but in reality it's the existence of the internet that made this possible. Social media is the user interface for the background plumbing of the internet that connects the world today. Along with this, though, there is a far more sinister effect of social networking websites: the social bubble.
The social bubble is what we create (either inadvertently or intentionally) when we follow and like individuals, groups, or businesses tailored to our interests. This is what makes social media work since these things that we follow or like give the social giants data on what we enjoy. They can then use this data to sell adverts that are tailored to us and this makes them money, hopefully. There's nothing inherently wrong with this idea on its own but it begins to fall apart when humans become involved.
Humans are creatures that naturally like comfort and gravitate towards groups and people that make us feel comfortable. This means we look for things that fit in with our world view because it's comfortable. It also means that because these things are comfortable we're less likely to see them as a bad thing. Naturally, something that is comfortable is less likely to hurt us, therefore, we're going to be able to survive for longer. Social media lets us create zones of comfort that by the nature of being comfortable are reinforcing our views, not challenging us intellectually, and taking away the desire to debate.
Social media create a simple chain of effect where A leads to B leads to C. In this case, social media bubbles reinforce our views, which leads to us not being challenged intellectually inside our social bubbles, and this in turn takes away a desire to discuss and debate these ideas in our social bubble. Reinforcing our own views on social media is not surprising because we choose what we see and we're more likely to want to see items we agree with. If we agree with everything we see there's no reason to intellectually question anything. Finally, if we're constantly reinforced and don't feel the need to intellectual question our beliefs, individuals are at risk of not being able to vigorously debate their beliefs and see anything that challenges their beliefs as wrong!
This problem can in large be fixed by simply following or liking pages that we disagree with if we rely purely on social media websites for news. If we don't rely purely on social media, being challenged becomes easier. We can watch or read other news sources and have an internal debate in our head of what's right and wrong. The human problem is largely fixable on its own by simply opening ourselves up to dissenting view points. The social media side is where the problem truly begins.
Social media giants are the arbiters of information in today's internet connected world. We rely on them to be transparent regarding policies of content removal and user removal from their platforms. We also rely on them to ensure that civil debate and discussion can happen and a multitude of views are present on their platforms. If social media giants decide to limit debate on one side or the other of any controversial idea they are acting as censors.
Social media giants who have user bases in the billions should be completely transparent and honest about the way they handle operations. This includes and should not be limited to:
- Should users self-ban other users by muting rather than relying on a ban hammer?
- Is free speech a core value of the organization?
- Is there a central tenet or will the organization operate differently in China than in the US?
- Whose thoughts are what the organization thrives on? The view of the organization or those of the user?
- Are trending topics curated (meaning user input based on traction with editors picking and choosing what to showcase) or are trending topics open to whatever the users want to talk about?
- What's more important? The global whole or the individual?
These are some questions that any social media corporation should be able to answer easily and truthfully and place the answers on display for the entirety of the user base. If they can't or don't want to then they aren't being upfront with the user. If they waver on these stances they probably are hiding true motives from their user base.
If social media services would prefer to cater to their users wishes for social bubbles, censorship, and the stifling of debate then we are truly troubled. It is not the government that will lead us to the thought police state of 1984 but instead the social platforms that promised to open the world.