According to a recent article on The Verge, there is so much disturbing content on Facebook it takes 30,000 people to imperfectly contain it. Neither the big social media networks nor law enforcement is prepared to deal with the scale of the depravity, exploitation, immorality and lawlessness captured on smartphone cameras around the world and posted on social media sites. “A lie gets around the world before truth gets its pants on,” Winston Churchill famously said. So it is on social media. Even malicious content caught quickly by moderators is posted and reposted in a sick game of whack-a-mole.
The world is a dark place, darker than even the cynics thought, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have become the broadcast platform of that darkness. The depth of the depravity disturbs the most hardened observers. Because many of the contractors hired to police this content are not hardened, but rather desperate for a $15/hour job with some benefits, they are often traumatized by what they see.
We have unwittingly unleashed a world scale hate machine that no one could have anticipated and no one, seemingly, can fix. No one has an answer. Meanwhile, the problem grows. The darkness encroaches. Lies proliferate. Rage accelerates. There is more resentment. More mental health problems. More mass shootings.
One of the biggest contributors to this is the anonymity of the online world. Facebook and YouTube should and could make sure every account is a verified person, to introduce some modicum of accountability. Good people are fleeing the Facebook platform and forming their own private networks on WhatsApp (also owned by FB) and Apple’s Messenger. The ratio of bad actors to normal people thus increases.
The scrolling 2D social newsfeed and the antiquated idea that “everyone is entitled to their opinion” has been twisted into a dangerous ball of contradictions by social media. Expressing an opinion and advocating or broadcasting hate and violence are not the same thing. Weaponized “opinions” are a clear and present danger to society. Western liberalism is being used as a club against it. Censorship is terrible for free, open, democratic societies. To avoid undermining democracy, when used, it must be done openly and transparently. The job of protecting democracy, truth, freedom of speech, and freedom from violence should not be the job of private companies like Facebook and Google. People are rightfully concerned about government accountability and abuse, but surely the solution is not to turn the job of censorship to private companies accountable only to their shareholders.
“The broken mechanism for sharing that we have right now is to allow anonymous people to post videos that are public to all by default, and then let auditors paid by ad revenues make best efforts to review and take bad stuff down. That isn’t going to work,” says Philip Rosedale, Founder of social VR sites Second Life and High Fidelity. “We need something different, like videos attributed to a pseudonymous global username are reviewed by a small random set of people, and passed to a larger audience if approved by a supermajority. Or something like that,” Rosedale continued. “Blockchain could help with the right sort of data structure, but the thing we need is a really simple app that facilitates this new kind of sharing.”
Imagine a 3D VR world of avatars with the same limitless anonymity. Could the good people be driven away from social VR for the same reasons? Fortunately VR has no news feed yet, so perhaps it will be less of a hateful place than social media is in the real world. So far, moderation issues on platforms like VR Chat and Rec Room seem relatively benign. But these are early days. “I don’t care if it’s VR, AR or 2D scrolling media,” Rosedale said, “this can and should be fixed as soon as possible or the most dire predictions will come true.”