Happy May day!
In Minnesota, that rumored spring and start of summer has yet to arrive as we have had chilly rainstorms for the last few days. It is coming, we are promised, and we get a few nice days to tease us… I can’t help but feel spring in Minnesota this year is a metaphor for the entire Covid pandemic.
Because there isn’t much to bring up in this space (staying with one entry a week, will improve the site someday, I promise) I wanted to write on the topic dominating the web this last week. Elon Musk buying Twitter.
I personally am not on Twitter. I have heard experiences ranging from finding a wonderful and supportive community in Twitter, to it being a cesspool of harassment. Both things can be true.
I remember the Yahoo! mailing list days, when people sent emails on blah topics. There were multiple flame wars, and that was among a group of people who joined and not open to anyone with an internet connection. Some fights were settled by people going out to coffee, which in our social media age of people from across the world arguing with each other is not an option.
Any social media group is only as good as its moderation, as I discussed in my pagan community post. The sad thing is completely fun and frivolous groups meant to celebrate a fandom, or a fun hobby, or share cute cat pics need just as much moderation as political ones. It sucks that you can start a social media group talking about how much you love my Little Ponies and have to kick out white supremacists, but that is the age we live in. Not everyone engages with the best of intentions. People also can get nasty over stupid stuff, or just use any excuse to cause pain and chaos, and any group moderator needs to nip that in the bud as well. Plenty of well meaning moderators have not stepped in, either out of inexperience or fear, and ultimately a group falls to the lowest denominator. If you don’t clearly state this is not OK to someone, they will think it is OK and keep doing it.
Technically, the first amendment simply says the government can’t jail you for what you say. There are plenty of exceptions (libel and slander laws for one). Social media are private platforms, not government entities, although there are plenty of interesting court challenges ahead. When a lot of social media was started, stopping harassment or misinformation or hateful ideology was not on the radar of the founders. At this point I think the major social media platforms have gotten so big they aren’t able to moderate their platforms. If when those platforms were started they made expectations clear, and responded to complaints seriously, I do think we would see very different landscape today.
But we can’t live in the past, anymore than we can delude ourselves about human nature. We can understand the tools of the information age, and the good and bad they can do. But now we’re in the stage where those tools need to be changed to deal with the harm that has come while trying to keep the good. I wish I was more optimistic that would actually happen.