Social Media – Accountability

Posted on November 12, 2012


All things are relative and as with the moral and ethical maturity of our traditional media industry so to the time has come for the maturing of the feral online social media environment – Facebook and Twitter namely the most proclaimed setting an example for the plethora of aspiring smaller social media platforms.

Riches takes us to the nub of the issue. As I have written in the past (‘Digital Enslavement’ and ‘Facebook and the ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’) these corporate entities build their value out of the goodwill and voluntary contributions of millions who sign away their rights to these social media platforms in the quid pro quo of infamy in a digital life.

I am not a lawyer but I would suggest that the terms and conditions of use equate to a contractual engagement, ‘you get to use our social media platform and we get use and have retention rights over your digital contributions of ANY kind’ (See my earlier blog ‘Click through’ to hell’). In which case these social media entities appear to  be establishing a new generation of syndication agreement with their membership. A syndication agreement that allows Facebook and Twitter to build their value proposition in the same way as any traditional offline media entity would, by publishing content from those they retain or syndicate for their own betterment by attracting audience which represents eyeballs for advertising and promotional revenue.

Apply the traditional rules of the press to this we can start to peel away at the onion of obfuscation that is the digital realm in the eyes and understanding of many. There is little real difference with much that occurs online to its offline counterparts or activities with which a parallel purpose or process can be drawn. I therefore subscribe to the thesis that much of the increasingly intolerable misinformation that purveys the social media channels should be subject to the same oversight and the publishers called to account as their offline kin and kind.

Let us bring this up to date. One of the most respected families in the land has suffered the white hot blast from the invidious social media spotlight. An unfettered social media has magnified disproportionately and granted credibility to a statement of ignorance that would never have attracted such infamy if even the most cursory of facts had been considered, facts that would have discredited it.

The very worst form of ill-conceived reportage that is not discouraged, why? Because it attracts attention and attention is good for Social media sites.

Social Media corporations should not be allowed to hide behind the acts of their members, they should be accountable for the words they publish. Such a proposition will no doubt be met with derision by shareholders and the supporting cast(s) of legal saprophytes, but I have always believed there is no such thing as a free meal. For Facebook, Twitter and their ilk the feeding frenzy that has pumped up their market valuations has a counterweight and it is time the pendulum swung back into the realms of reality.

It is time that Social Media grew up and did so at the same ‘Internet Speed’ that they have swaggered onto the public stage and into the social psyche. Firstly this is not entertainment, secondly if social media corporations are going to reveal in the Balance Sheet valuations attributable to their ‘active’ contributors (membership) then they are ready to take the associated accountability for the impact of their published content.

The Internet is all about freedom of speech, I am not saying no to that, what I am saying is for corporations that aspire to capitalise on the respectability of a legitimate business they have a responsibility to the society they are serving to mainstream their behaviour and not act like a radical fringe. Yes there will always be a radical fringe website here and there that breaks the rules and will provide a platform for extremists and wackiness, as there are groups who gather in the same way in the offline world. These will never be put down in a free society and nor should they. But their owners are and will continue to be accountable, so why not the likes of Facebook and Twitter? Just because they are the darlings of the new generation, and loved up to by Politicians and Celebrities does not exclude them from applying certain rules and honouring their accountability.

History is rife with cultural and social ‘flocking’ behaviours that have in hindsight appeared as inconceivable. Whilst I do not place the social media revolution in the same camp as the hypnosis that seemed to engulf a generation as did The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution thatswept China under Mao or the Nazi movement under Hitler. These illustrate how society can and does get swept up in even such extreme events.  I feel we have to wake up to what we are increasingly giving credence to in the digital dimension and reflect on how it can better positively contribute to society with proper governance and stem the recklessness that is being encouraged at the expense of many innocent parties.