US President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis is one of the biggest stories in the world right now, and as you might expect given the divisive nature of US politics at present, many of the social media posts about Trump’s situation have not been sympathetic.
That’s prompted Twitter to reiterate its rules around wishing harm against others, which it revised back in April to incorporate threats of serious bodily harm or fatal disease against anybody, including the President.
As per Twitter:
“We’ve taken significant steps to address Tweets that violate our policies on abuse without people having to report it, with more than 50% being caught through automated systems.”
Which sounds positive – yet a simple Twitter search for ‘hope he dies’ still uncovers a broad range of tweets which, under these regulations, should be removed.
Which highlights the difficulty of Twitter’s position, and indeed, the challenge that all social platforms face in policing what is and is not acceptable in common speech.
The great promise of social media platforms lies in giving everybody a voice, a platform from which to be heard, which enables people from all walks of life to connect and share. That, theoretically, should facilitate greater understanding and empathy – if everybody has a voice, then we can hear from all perspectives and broaden our world through online conversation.
This is the idealogical concept, but as we’ve seen, the reality is actually far from this utopic vision.
The flip side of this is that by giving everyone a voice, you also, inadvertently, amplify the negative. Dangerous conspiracy theories have more opportunity to take root in the minds of those open to such ideas, niche ideology can flourish by branching out to diverse, disparate, and once disconnected groups. Once you provide a means for more voices to be heard, you also allow more radical, left of center groups to expand, and that can have dangerous consequences, in varying form.
Which is why platforms need rules. But who decides what’s acceptable and what’s not? Who decides what’s true and what isn’t?
The longer these counter-culture groups are allowed to expand, the stronger they grow, and the more questions are raised as to who’s in charge, and who should be, and what can be done to correct the balance.
Which leaves social platforms in a difficult position. Now, rather than just facilitating connection and discussion, they also need to consider the implications of such, and police conversations accordingly. Which then limits connection, and some would say, impedes on free speech.
But what else can they do? Allowing outright hate speech is clearly not acceptable, but what about speech that’s just a little hateful? What about content that’s a just little divisive, which allows for some division to still slip through?
And when you do draw the line, how can you effectively police such, when there are so many variations on how people can share such messages?
The situation once again underlines the complex balance that social platforms now need to maintain in order to facilitate connection without providing a platform for negativity. Which is almost impossible to do – and while, right now, the focus is on the US President, there are going to be many more situations of this type in future, where platforms need to not only draw a line in the sand, but also decide where that line, exactly, should be placed.
Giving everybody a platform comes with significant risks. Is it even possible to lessen them without limiting expression?
Some have even questioned whether social platforms should interfere at all, as people can choose to participate or not. But by providing a means for people to amplify their messages to millions, even billions of people, the platforms do indeed play a role in such, and have a responsibility to limit negative impacts where they can.
But there are no easy answers. Increased moderation, third-party fact-checking, external oversight groups to assist in content rulings. All of these are important, valuable elements, but none can ensure the elimination of dangerous movements, misinformation, misrepresentation and the like.
People are still going to tweet things that are against the rules, and those tweets are still going to be seen, and people are still going to respond, both emotionally and physically, even if that tweet is later removed.
No system can stop all of these comments from being seen. So what then? How do we move forward in an increasingly divided world when social platforms continue to facilitate a means for these messages to spread?
Can it be fixed? Would we be better off without social platforms, with more editorial gatekeepers slowing the spread of such comments? Or has such division always existed and we’re only now being more exposed to it, and we now have a means to address such by getting it all out in the open?
These will be key questions for social media platforms moving forward, especially in the wake of the coming US election.
TikTok Faces More Legal Challenges Over Data Collection and its Failure to Protect Young Users
TikTok is facing yet another legal challenge in the US, with the State of Indiana filing a lawsuit that accuses TikTok and parent company ByteDance of violating the state’s consumer protection laws, and in particular, failing to safeguard young people and privacy.
As reported by BBC:
“Indiana filed two lawsuits on Wednesday. The first one claims the app exposes young users to inappropriate content. In the other complaint, [Indiana] also alleges TikTok does not disclose the Chinese government’s potential to access sensitive consumer information.”
Described in court documents as ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’, the suit alleges that TikTok ‘deceives and misleads’ consumers about the risks to their data, while also exposing youngsters to ‘a variety of inappropriate content’.
TikTok’s faced similar challenges around the world, and has even been banned for periods in other nations due to perceived promotion of harmful content. Recent reports about harmful challenges have also heightened concerns on this front. A Bloomberg investigation highlighted at least 10 cases of underage users dying after attempting dangerous trends like ‘The Blackout Challenge’.
And this is an aside from the broader concerns about data privacy, which the app remains under CFIUS investigation for, as US politicians continue to debate whether or not the Chinese-owned app should be allowed to continue to operate within the US.
It still feels like it would take a significant escalation for the app banned outright, but that remains a possibility, and with various high-profile security officials also sounding the alarm, the pressure remains high on TikTok, with the threat of total removal from the US, and likely other markets in-turn, looming at all times.
Last month, FBI Director Chris Wray stated that, in his view, TikTok poses a threat to national security, joining FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr and Republican senator Josh Hawley in voicing their concerns about the app and its data gathering processes. Republican Senators, in particular, have continued to raise queries about the app, as the Biden Administration oversees its long-running review of the platform, which has experienced repeated delays and setbacks, and is now, reportedly, unlikely to be completed by its original end of the year timeframe.
But it could, eventually, recommend the removal of TikTok in the US.
For its part, TikTok says that it remains confident that it will be able to address all US concerns about its data security, via a new deal with Oracle to store US user data in the US. But with the company recently noting that European user data can still be accessed by China-based staff, the concerns remain high, and could easily rise even further, dependent on overall US/China relations.
So how are relations between the two superpowers going?
Just looking at headlines from the past week, there are reports of a potential defense partnership between China and Saudi Arabia, ongoing tensions over Chinese military activations in the South China Sea, and the US increasing its military presence in Australia due to concerns about Chinese escalation.
All of these are issues that could lead to further tension between China and the US. But they might not – and while the two nations are working to establish more beneficial, equitable and peaceful ties, that bodes well for TikTok, as there’s no significant increase in public pressure to take action against the app.
But again, things can change very quickly, and with so many security experts flagging concerns about the app, along with the issues related to underage exposure, there’s clearly a level of underlying concern, that could bubble up at any time.
And when you also consider TikTok’s growing influence – the app now has over a billion users, and is increasingly being used as a search engine and a news source, especially among young audiences – those questions are valid, and should be posed before it’s too late.
The influence of Russian activists on Facebook was only ever analyzed in retrospect. Those calling for action on TikTok are warning that we need to be proactive on such this time around.
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