Why is social media so broken?

We all use it and it can be a force for good so why, asks PAT PILCHER, is social media increasingly going down the toilet?

This morning, I fired up the espresso machine, extracted a strong brew and sat down over breakfast to check email and review the Facebook groups I am an admin on. Most mornings, this sees me replying to posts and doing basic admin stuff, but today was different.

In my notifications, Facebook informed me that one of my posts had been removed because it violated their cybersecurity standards.

Momentarily baffled, I clicked on the notification, hoping to find out more. Sadly, this proved a complete waste of time as the notification wouldn’t show me the offending post nor tell me what I’d done.

Clicking the Review button was even less enlightening as I could only click a few predefined options, none of which were remotely relevant. All told the whole situation felt very Kafka-esque. Dealing with Facebook doesn’t involve interaction with actual employees but an AI process that simply doesn’t work.

Feeling slightly baffled, I posted about this bizarre situation on Facebook. The responses I got were both worrying and an insight into just how broken Facebook is.

 


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Don’t get me wrong, as infuriating as Facebook can be, it is also a force for good. I am one of the admins for a greyhound Facebook group in which a massive global community of greyhound owners from around the world connect, share, support and help each other out. Thanks to this group, the lives of thousands of people and hounds have been changed for the better all over the world.

Meanwhile, I was still baffled about how anything I posted was a cyber security threat. Was a poorly edited meme such an issue that Facebook felt compelled to remove it and cryptically tell me they’d done so? This was far more serious than I realised. Was my PC infected by malware posting malevolent content without my knowledge? Had my Facebook account been compromised and was being used for nefarious purposes?

These were valid and important concerns, yet Facebook’s response was as clear as mud.

Curious to see if anyone on Facebook has experienced similar issues, I posted about my situation. The responses were enlightening. One response said they’d posted about hanging a picture and were temporarily banned for hate speech. A common theme was that the AI Facebook used to enforce good behaviour was about as thick as paste. It was putting many innocent people in social media jail where they could not contact any actual Facebook employees to plead their case. Even worse, many also commented that the automated appeals process seems to rarely, if ever, overturn the often bizarre rulings of Facebook’s broken AI.

It isn’t just Facebook, though. The social media platform formerly known as Twitter, now called X, also has many issues. Since Elon Musk took over it and did his absolute best to drive it into the ground, X has become a hot mess.

It isn’t unusual to see extreme and often crazy views posted on Twitter. Sadly, some views appear more acceptable than others right now. Right-wing nutjobs seem to be posting all sorts of toxic, hateful nonsense with complete impunity. Racism, misogyny, and other hate speech are rampant. While many posts can be dealt with using the block button, some are so nasty that I feel compelled to report them.

Sadly, reporting hate speech seems to be about as effective as a fart in a hurricane on X. Where Facebook is jumping on people for all the wrong reasons because of their cruddy AI, X occupies the other extreme and is ignoring blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic and hate-based tweets when they are reported. Unsurprisingly, these are growing out of control, making X an increasingly toxic and unpleasant place to hang out.

Then there’s LinkedIn. It was a platform for business professionals to network and build business relationships. Nowadays, it is filled with vapid narcissism and, yep, you guessed it, right-wing hate speech that is rarely, if ever, kept in check.

So, what are the impacts of these poorly run social media platforms on New Zealand? Sadly, the downstream chaos is far more widespread and severe than many realise.

A study published in Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking found that social media has negative impacts on mental health. The study established that there is a link between social media use and poor mental wellbeing and that this includes risks of addiction, cyberbullying and exposure to misinformation.

The most widely discussed issue with social media is the proliferation of misinformation. Poorly administered social media platforms have seen misinformation grow at an explosive rate. Given the role of social media as either a complementary side dish or even a substitute for traditional media, concerns around the negative impacts of misinformation on informed decision-making in society are looking increasingly valid. One only needs to look at the utter shambles of last year’s parliamentary protests and social media’s role to see how this works.

Left unchecked, social media’s effects on youth are also a growing problem. New Zealand Education  notes that there are ample links between social media and body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety among youth in New Zealand. Unsurprisingly, mental health issues are also linked to social media, and online bullying via social media is identified as a key force underlying many of the mental health issues affecting kids in New Zealand.

As you’d expect, toxic social media is also poisoning political discourse in New Zealand. Social media has long been associated with an increasingly toxic political environment. This includes online abuse, misinformation and increasingly nasty debates, all of which undermine the feeling of community on social media and, in some cases, have spilt over into real-world events, not to mention misinforming voters.

Could it be that governments worldwide need to agree on how social media platforms are administered and what is and is not acceptable? Sadly, as things currently stand, social media platforms and their owners are unlikely to ever be held accountable.

 

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