If you haven’t realized it by now, social media companies are not a product. They are not beholden to their users for any reason other than that they need users to be the product. Social media then sells its data and insights to the highest advertising budget to get the most targeted results. While making you the product has been vilified in some arenas, it’s not any worse than you as the product for TV or radio. The biggest difference is that Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk can target you specifically, have done experiments to show they can manipulate your feelings, and are in it for a profit, not of millions of dollars, but hundreds of millions.
Recently, the companies have come under fire for allowing conspiracy theories, Russian bots, and fake accounts buy, bully, and bust their ways through the algorithms. Rather than create a social atmosphere where people are able to engage in uplifting and educational activities, they have harnessed the crazies who drive views and engagement. The companies talk about fixing the problems, but they won’t do anything
Social Media Companies’ Responsibility
The best thing social media companies can do is to verify every user. With a verification process, celebrities and companies with blue check marks are the real person or company representative. If they can do it for celebs and companies, they can do it for real people. The verifications will stop bots, fake accounts, and those people who are online just to troll others. It’s much harder to spit vitriol when you don’t have an avatar to hide behind. It’s also much easier for people to identify you and block you as a troll. If those on social media could only have one account, they would likely be a lot more careful. It won’t stop all of the bullying, stupidity, or conspiracy theories, but it would make sure there were real people that were behind them and not made up names, handles, or automated bots.
Social Media Users’ Responsibilities
Chances are that the companies won’t take that path. They would say it would cost too much. It’s too labor intensive. It wouldn’t work anyway because hackers would find a way to create more bots. (If that last one is true, then we can’t really trust the blue check mark, can we?) With the companies pleading the First Amendment and not wanting to sacrifice profits for the betterment of IRL society, users have some things they can do to make the social media experience better.
Don’t feed the trolls.
You know who they are, most of the time. People who say things just to get a rise out of you. They post blatant untruths and conspiracy theories while bad-mouthin’ your mama in a way that kids on the playground would’ve been ashamed to do. Do not respond to them. If you make the mistake of responding to a troll, block them and move on. What they write is hurtful and abusive, but it’s designed to be that way. They don’t even care about the argument; they just want the power rush that comes with making you mad. Like a toddler pressing his or her parents’ buttons and making the adults do things.
Check your sources.
No one knows everything, but you should check your sources before you post that “Did you know…?” video. There’s so much bad information out there, that it’s difficult to discern what’s correct and what isn’t. Media Bias Fact Check is one good source to find out how your favorite news sources lean. If your news is coming from a YouTube account that isn’t tied to an accepted media institution, it’s probably fake.
Report fake news.
You can report posts that are factual incorrect. You can report people who are abusing another person or a group of people. Every social media gives you the option of registering an objection to a post based on its lack of veracity or its harmful intent. Some social media communities will even allow you to report fake accounts and spam. If you know the person posting it, maybe reach out to them as a friend. But report the post. Just remember to verify that you’re correct about what you think before doing so. Your friend may have found something that you don’t agree with; that doesn’t make it wrong. But opinion and fact are two different things: report falsehoods.
Be kind in your interactions.
We all have bad days, but we don’t know when those will be. We also don’t know when someone else is having a bad day. Your post, comment, or other interaction may send your friend over the edge. He or she may have just been holding it together until you tipped the boat and dumped them into the current. It happens to the best of us. If you can see your way to being kind in all your interactions online, you might be the person that saves someone from an evening of depression and pain. That’s a worthy goal to follow for every post. If you were raised with “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” you know how to interact kindly IRL and online. Be a uniter, encourager, and truth-seeker, social media will be better for your presence, and we’ll all thank you.
While trying to find out why social media accounts won’t blue-check everyone, I ran across this Forbes editorial from 2018 asking marketers to require social media to verify everyone: “Is It Time To Require Identity Verification For Everyone Using Social Media?”
Journalism.co.uk has several suggestions on how to verify content on social media.