Social media must avoid causing their own decline

opinion January 08, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

Latest Facebook Live incident calls for ethical upgrade



In an era where anyone can “broadcast” just about anything, ethical responsibility has shifted from the mainstream media to the people who have never been told before to be careful about “information”. The case of a girl who “paid” someone to broadcast live on Facebook her last moments before plunging to her death underlines the urgent need for a smooth “transition” of responsibility.

Such an incident was not unexpected. Facebook Live unsurprisingly proved to be a popular way of sharing happy moments with friends and family, and was embraced considerably by the conventional media. However, the disturbing trend of broadcasting dark or miserable sides of human beings did not raise any eyebrows either.

Measures were introduced to block “unethical broadcasts”. Such live footages have slipped through the guards, anyway, some of which became big, international news.

To be fair to Mark Zuckerberg, he is well aware of the problem. “We’ve seen people hurting themselves and others on Facebook – either live or in video posted later,” he wrote on his own Facebook account last year. “It’s heartbreaking, and I’ve been reflecting on how we can do better for our community.”

However, certain things are his direct responsibility and others are not. For example, Zuckerberg should focus on worries that tech companies or owners of social media “platforms” can influence public thinking, politically or ideologically, through giving users easy or difficult accesses to content. Problems like bad, careless or unethical postings must be handled primarily by users themselves.

Social media users have displayed honourable and worrisome sides. Reckless sharing and shocking live footages are among alarming trends. In fact, a lot of mainstream media characteristics deemed inappropriate have been transferred to social media, a situation which arguably presents society with a bigger problem.

Content on social media can be easily viral and the origins can be very hard to track. This actually calls for stricter ethical codes but nobody can really control the spread of false or improper information. The slightest hint of controlling social media content can be greeted with major outcries. Sometimes, such outcries are sensible; sometimes, they are not.

When the authorities want to put the mainstream media under control, a rational compromise can be that members of the conventional media can regulate themselves. That option is hard to implement, but for the social media, it’s a lot harder.

But the need for social media users, in fact everyone, to learn and observe basic ethical principles, is getting more urgent. The mainstream media are losing their influence, and the social media are getting more powerful with each passing day. Without a code of conduct, the social media can become what they abhor – in other words an unreliable, if not downright disgusting, source of information.

Worse still, “unethical” social media will pave the way for people with ill intentions or hidden agendas to try to control them. “Spreading hatred” or “circulating rumours” or “threatening peace” or “damaging public safety/security” are among popular reasons usually cited when the powers-that-be want to control the media. From the way things are on social media, such excuses are not difficult to find.

Simply put, the users of social media must adjust themselves for their own good. Their tools are gifts and they have used them to great effect. However, they have come to a point where maturity is a must, or the bad old days can easily come back, albeit on new platforms.