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Op-Ed: Social media — Rich, annoying and irresponsible vs regulation

Do you really need laws to tell you to shut this mess down?

Elon Musk bought the platform, then known as Twitter, for $44 billion last year
Image: - © AFP DAVID GRAY
Image: - © AFP DAVID GRAY

Social media is directly responsible for most of the utter garbage that flies around. In Australia, a rumor started that the mass stabbing in a mall was a terrorist attack. It wasn’t. The result is genuine anger and possible government intervention under consideration.

The problem here is that we have six people dead, including a mother who died defending her baby from the attack. The attack was quite bad enough without anyone turning it into a publicity opportunity. We don’t need opportunistic political rumor-mongering and hate-mongering as well.

Later there was a church stabbing which also generated another bout of social media. Whatever the legal position, nobody needs spectators making money out of it by posting their dinky little hatreds.

Social media is also a safe haven for anyone or anything, from terrorists to paid trolls and bots spreading disinformation.  Most social media has some sort of controls in place for this type of behavior.

Some, however, like the self-demoted former top social media platform X, are ambivalent at best. There’s been a lot of controversy about X’s policies. X is now seen as pro-right-wing, with attendant trolls and propaganda.

It’s a pretty infantile situation. Twitter had policies in place to manage these things. X removed them. The result is things like the Sydney stabbing being turned into propaganda.

(The timing of this propaganda was interesting. Before anyone had any idea what the motives for the stabbings were, it was “terrorism”. That instant labelling serves the purposes of any number of hate groups. Still think you’re getting “news” from these parasites?)

I’m not here to psychoanalyze Elon Musk. Neither is the rest of the world. The fascination with rich nuisances dried up a long time ago. I couldn’t care less either. The usual global pathology of “rich guy wants to annoy people” is near enough to a working theory. It’s a version of the “Trump effect”. All you need to do is create a highly publicized controversy, whether any facts exist or not, to get media traction.

Elon Musk says X will appeal against an Australian injunction forcing it to take down videos of a church stabbing in Sydney
Elon Musk says X will appeal against an Australian injunction forcing it to take down videos of a church stabbing in Sydney – Copyright AFP/File Sergei GAPON

That’s not even relevant.

What’s relevant is the effect. The ability of social media to turn non-information into hate is well-known. Social media is the preferred way to deliver hate. Instead of shutting down these outlets, they’ve become an industry in their own right.

that’s done wonders for the world. Polarized America is based on this drivel, and by any standards, it’s a basket case. The Middle East, that hotbed of sanity, has a forum for its most absurd and disgusting falsehoods. The Russians use social media to spread any current garbage far and wide.

There’s a gigantic irony in this situation. Social media had the situation more or less under credible management. It was dogmatic management, but it “sort of” worked. It worked a lot better than no management works. It’s one of the few cases where self-regulation delivered any sort of measurable benefit.

Now, it’s back to kindergarten. The kids have to be told yet again that whatever comes out of a highly paid dog’s backside isn’t food. That information has to be backed up by some very expensive discipline to make it work.

Why should anyone get away with this fraudulent babble? It’s costing lives. The only people who benefit from it are freeloaders, politicians, and terrorists. Like there was a difference.

We’re also at a point where legalities can finally come into play. The free market for disinformation is ending, slowly but irrevocably. Spreading false information isn’t exactly popular. It can and does cause harm, and that damage is actionable.

Causing trauma and anxiety can be considered actionable anywhere on Earth. Hate speech targeting ethnic groups could be the cause of some of the biggest class actions in history.

Never mind the politics. Communities have had far more than enough for far more than long enough. Disinformation has done far too much damage to be tolerated in any form.

Artificial intelligence is not going to make this any better. Theoretically, AI can be used to combat this level of nutcase spam, but it can also generate it in vast amounts with or without attached malware. .  

There are major risks for social media here. There are legal liabilities and major downsides. According to one source, X is already “a ghost town of bots.” That’s not exactly good for user numbers, real or imagined. It’s not good for attracting sponsors either, even if it does explain the strange silences on X.

There needs to be a “moderator clause” for AI use on social media. If that sounds like an excuse for more nitpicking, it probably is, but information quality controls have to start somewhere. It’d also be nice to think that all this “free speech” actually comes from people, not AI or bots with agendas.

Do you really need laws to tell you to shut this mess down?

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Disclaimer
The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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