It’s hard to remember an event as devastating to the reputation of social media as this week’s revelations. Cambridge Analytica stands accused of mining the data of 50 million Facebook profiles - without permission, and to politically target users. It’s thought this data was used to create targeted ads to affect the outcome of some of the world’s largest political events: think Brexit and the 2016 US Presidential Election.
Although it’s the consultancy firm that’s charged with doing the dirty, Facebook is not in the clear. Mark Zuckerberg has been called by MPs to give evidence amid claims his company failed to alert users and take adequate measures once the breach was discovered. There’s even a #DeleteFacebook trend, supported by co-founder of the now Facebook-owned Whatsapp. Those around the globe are beginning to wonder, is this it for the social network?
Now, I’m in no way condoning the actions of any of the involved parties. I’m glad the world’s eyes are being fully opened to the need for strict privacy controls and internet regulation. But I’m worried about our knee-jerk response. Simply pulling the plug on Facebook and other social media sites is not the answer - greater laws and consequences are. And in our shock and alarm, we mustn’t ignore the good that social media can do. It would be a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
For better or worse, social media has changed the way society functions. And there is a ‘better’ here too. It connects people, reduces distance and improves access, and though these links can - as seen - be used for negative purposes, they also have a positive political use. We’re not just passive cogs in a wider machine. We can use this machine to effect the change we want to see in the world.
This positive power is not just theoretical. Social justice movements have found their home in social media. The recent #MeToo movement is a phenomenal example of social media’s ability to create community and continually drive change. It quite literally acts as a platform for otherwise silenced voices and serves to remind those pushing for progress that they are not alone. Live streaming elements of social networks, such as Facebook Live, are also perfect for calls to action, with rallies able to be broadcast live and sense of global solidarity achieved. Even mass media understands social media’s political power, as seen in NBC’s live streaming of the Women’s March on Washington in January 2018.
Social media and live content only increases in importance in this era of fake news and Analytica-targeted ads. We’re savvy enough to realise that the camera can still lie but we can now be parachuted into an unfolding situation and gain unprecedented access to events we’d struggle to imagine. Twitter has cottoned on to this, partnering with news organisations to live stream newscasts during the Florida shootings only last month. Streaming events live as they develop on the ground is also incredibly important for the safety of protesters – acting to protect from abuses of power by making the world a witness to the truth.
Now, as someone who works in the realm of social media, you might think I’m willing myself to believe this because I want to keep my job. But I work in social media precisely because of my continued faith in its positive, world-changing power and its brighter future. From even simple actions like gathering fundraising donations, to greater ones like galvanising global political movements, social media has a major role to play in creating social good. We can’t afford to give that up.
By Trevor Evans, CEO of Stream Time
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