For several years I have been pointing out the problem of social media dominated by propaganda.
In the past week, awareness of social media propaganda has risen, albeit, focused solely on Russia connected actors.
Amusingly, a lot of posts from individuals bemoaning Russia connected propaganda are from individuals who do not realize their own posts are the problem too. Far too many users of Facebook and Twitter believe the primary purpose of their posts is to persuade others to adopt their agenda – this is nearly all that they do on social media!
You likely have friends whose online posts are predominantly political propaganda messaging. Your friends are propagandists who exploit the free and frictionless social media platform for their own propaganda operations.
Which leads to social media propagandists protesting the use of social media for propaganda!
Marshall McLuhan’s long ago phrase “The Medium is the Message” is a clue to our present predicament. It’s not the Russians – its the medium itself that is the problem.
Social media is the problem.
Is this problem solvable?
Not under the current business structures of the social media companies.
Obviously, social media companies are under pressure to put a stop to propaganda messaging regarding politics – depending on the source of the messaging – and to hate speech.
- Some think new software technology based on neural networks and machine learning will identify inappropriate propaganda from appropriate and acceptable propaganda.
- Some think software and new procedures will identify automated “bot” propaganda accounts -and distinguish between “evil” ones and “good” ones.
- Perhaps new procedures will emerge to solve the problem. Facebook has said that in the future political ads will require verification by a U.S. address – but that does not stop foreign actors from using in country addresses. Nor does it stop the legal activity of foreigners exercising rights to voice their opinion about U.S. political activities in their personal posts, or of U.S. citizens from exercising rights to voice their opinion of political activities in other countries.
- I’ve proposed charging a small fee for social media posts, to cut down on the endless sharing of propaganda messaging. Without sharing, propaganda memes go nowhere. This idea, of course, will go nowhere.
Could we train social media users?
Some think social media users need to be more discerning about the provenance of the content they view and share. Unfortunately, every day I see smart people sharing things that are exaggerated or untrue. I doubt training will work.
Could we train social media users not to share? I rarely share on my social media pages content that I or someone I know did not create. My goal is to prevent myself from becoming a cog in the social media propaganda machinery. But I do not see others adopting such stringent standards.
Is Social Media so overrun with crap that people quit?
This is entirely possible. We have already seen social media changes. Myspace is gone. Young people have abandoned Facebook in favor of Snapchat and Instagram. Estimates are that 15-50% of Twitter accounts are bots or otherwise controlled by software applications producing tweets automatically on behalf of a real person.
This reminds me of a cartoon from 20+ years ago. It showed a hypothetical automated classroom where students were taught by images on a video screen. In the other direction, the students were replaced by tape recorders 🙂
Twitter is becoming the same way – its automated messaging talking to other automated bot accounts, each re-tweeting each other’s content which is being read by fewer and fewer actual people.
When the medium is overcome with artificially generated and shared propaganda, people will abandon the platforms as the value proposition erodes.
I have semi-abandoned the platforms by choosing to be aggressive about cutting off friends and followers whose main use of a platform is to propagandize others. When my “friends” on Facebook believe the primary purpose of Facebook is to spread their propaganda, I hide, snooze or unfollow them. In some cases, I just unfriend them.
On Twitter I’ve taken to muting people who post the same general propaganda memes over and over again, and rarely offer any other interesting content. Simultaneously, I have dramatically cut my time spent on Twitter.
Cutting back our use of noisy social media, which is too often filled with outrage, is a first step to abandoning the platforms and a sign that the value of social media is becoming less and less for each of us.