After the shocks of Brexit and Donald Trump becoming president, there has been a lot of focus on social media’s impact on elections. There have been questions about about Russian interference in both UK and American politics. Companies like Cambridge Analytica have been under extreme scrutiny for their impacts on elections around the world. They being examined by Parliament, Congress and being featured in Netflix’s hit documentary ‘The Great Hack’.
What should be done? This week twitter decided ‘to ban all political ads’ from their platform. At first thought, this may seem to be a good idea, but questions about it’s effectiveness have been asked. Britney Kaiser herself said Facebook should do the same thing. However does this actually fix the problem or cause even more?
How will grass roots movements manage to gain any ground or attraction? For example, Point Of Information won’t be able to advertise our articles and it means it is even more impossible for us to spread our articles. It also doesn’t actually break up echo chambers (people only seeing the same information on their social media which they like and agree with) or even stop horrible comments being made online against politicians and citizens causing serious harm.
Therefore, we at POI try to answer what should be done to fix the political side of social media.
Written by Max Anderson
The Pandora’s Box has been opened, damage limitation is all we can do – a Labour article
Social media plays a huge role in our lives, whether we like it or not. It has the ability to shape your view of yourself or others, filter what information you have access to, and – on the other hand – create a greater platform than ever to discuss and exchange ideas.
It would be hypocritical to claim social media has fully negative consequences, here at Point of Information we explicitly use social media to spread our message and encourage the debating of ideas. However, the question of the future role of social media in our lives, and in politics, raises some legitimate concerns.
Firstly, from a personal point of view, social media can destroy a person’s mental health. Not only is it a means of reducing a person’s self esteem, showing them a filtered and artificial world in which they appear the least attractive and exciting person in comparison to what they see, it is also a home for bullies. We’ve heard about the abuse politicians – especially female and BAME MPs – receive on platforms like twitter, indeed at Point of Information, we’ve had run ins with the toxic culture of cyber trolling and personal attacks.
In light of this, it’s not surprising that we are facing a mental health epidemic, in which social media usage has been linked to the decline of mental wellbeing. In an ideal world, I would avoid any use of the platforms, but unfortunately they play too much of a role in society to avoid, thus, we must work with what we have. We need a societal shift, in which cyber harassment is considered the same as harassment in a public arena, the use of racist, sexist, homophobic language should also be reportable as hate speech, as it would be in a public setting.
The other enormous issue at hand, is that of misinformation and fake news. With two huge elections on the horizon, the Presidential race in the USA, and the General Election in the UK in December, social media platforms have been under pressure to regulate misinformation. Facebook UK has pledged that they will verify all adverts regarding immigration, health, and the environment before allowing them to be posted.
They have also promised to verify the identity of those posting ads which have a social or political message, to ensure they are a UK resident. This is a step in the right direction, who knows what the outcome of the Referendum would have been if the 350 million pledge had been fact checked before being plastered across social media.
The charity, Full Fact, will also be helping Facebook in the fact checking process. I do wonder whether the next step would be to incorporate such an organisation into the state regulatory body, rather than relying on an independent charity.
Altering of BBC headlines, doctoring of videos, the 2019 General Election has already seen evidence of the damage social media can do to our democracy. Fake News is the scourge of politics, and corrupts the health of our debates. It is encouraging, however, to see Facebook take strong measures against misinformation in the UK, let’s hope that the new measures are effective, and that we can avoid an election founded upon false claims. The next battle is to crack down on cyberbullying and online hate, this is another hurdle to overcome before we can fully enjoy how social media can provide a space for debate and healthy exchange.
By Isabella Jewell
Point of information
Just the one point of information – a Conservative response
Miss Jewell writes and excellent article this week addressing key issues over the use of social media. In her first key paragraph she makes the brutal point that social media can be a true disadvantage to mental health. This is bang on the money and social media companies have to understand that they have a duty of care for its users. This is even more enhanced when it comes to MPs and public officials who receive horrendous amounts of hate when all they are trying to do is serve their country.
I also agree with Miss Jewell over the need that we need a “societal shift” when it comes to dealing with cyber harassment. We must clamp done hard on these offenders who can do so much damage without even having to leave their house. We as a country need strong laws to protect us online from horrible online trolls.
My only niggle is the idea of incorporating companies like Full Fact into the civil service. I do believe that they should receive more funding from the government as they do a vitally important job but to nationalise these companies I feel right now is a step too far.
A great reminder of the harm Social media can do in the real work – a Liberal response
As someone who certainly looks at everything with blunt realism and pessimism, I do sometimes overlook the mental health side of social media. I usually focus on what people say, rather than the effect it can have on people. A message on social media is always so much worse than when it is spoken to you. Words, although painful, can disappear with the wind. A message, can stay on your screen forever.
I am really glad Miss Jewell has raised this point. It is not that I wasn’t aware, but the bullying side is something that has been forgotten by the media. Everyone, including myself, focuses on Cambridge Analytica and the political side of social media. I am glad that Miss Jewell has reminded us of this.
We must find the line to regulate whilst protecting free speech – a Conservative article
Social media is here and its here to stay. It can be a brilliant tool to help educate and inspire, yet at the same time it can cause anxiety, danger, and sadly, violence. So what must we do? This week I will be arguing that we must find the line to regulate and tax as well as protect free speech so that social media can be a benefit to all of society.
My first point falls to how we deal with social media companies. Recently under the chancellorship of Phillip Hammond, we saw him in a budget state that he or his successor would implement a digital service tax. This tax would effect multi-national social media companies who make over £500 million. The treasury has made that forecast hat this tax will “generate £275m in 2019-20, rising to £370m in the following year,” as well as “digital services tax receipts reaching £400m in 2021-22 and £440m the year after.”
This tax is only the beginning and it is necessary due to the appalling lack of tax these huge corporations pay. “Facebook paid £15.8m in UK tax last year despite collecting a record £1.3bn in British sales.” The same goes for Twitter, making £77 million only to pay £2.4 million in tax. We simply have to be tougher with these companies otherwise we will become a laughing stock. Yet with this point, the opposition will argue that we could scare away companies. This would not happen due to the Conservative governments lowing corporation tax, so that we can attract wealthy business and talented entrepreneurs to the UK. This added with the necessary digital services tax will do nothing but help the UK’s economy.
My other point is on the issue of safety. Social media can be a dangerous place and it is vital that we make sure that social media companies do more than their fair share by keeping its users safe. This is why under Conservative leadership we have seen the publication of the Online Harms White Paper. This will create an “independent regulator” who will regulate social media companies by making sure they protect their users. If not they will receive “substantial fines, lock access to sites and potentially to impose liability on individual members of senior management.”
This is a sensible approach to dealing with social media and it seems that the Conservative party is acting with sensibility on the issue. With too many incidents happening online such as the live streaming of a mass shooting in New Zealand, and multiple stories of people taking their lives due to the stress that social media can cause. This is why sensible laws as well as taxing social media companies is the way forward and it’s the Conservatives who are making these in-roads.
Written by Jack Kane
point of information
A great article by Mr Kane, but does it focus too much on tax? – a Liberal response
After lasts weeks article, I am glad to see Mr Kane and I see eye to eye again. That being said, I think Mr Kane is a bit too focused on tax. I think he has become distracted by social media companies, like a lot of multi-national companies, avoiding tax and not answered the question in enough depth as to what the UK needs to do in response to the rise of social media.
He makes a somewhat similar call for an independent regulator for social media, but Mr Kane doesn’t build enough into this. What does it mean to ‘protect their users’? I would make a case that the users are part of the problem. Trolls who hide behind their computer screens spreading false information, attacking innocent citizens or insulting even editors of POI for their beliefs, is something that needs to be fixed.
I am not saying Mr Kane in any way that this is a poor article. In fact i am saying the opposite. However, I wish you could of expanded a bit more on ‘protecting their users’.
A hard-line approach is required – a Labour response
I am very surprised to read Mr Kane’s support of increased taxation on social media companies – it isn’t the usual line that conservatives tread. I do, however, respect his proposition, it could be an effective means of reeling in companies which seem to consider themselves untouchable.
Mr Kane touches upon the relevant issues in his article; I agree that social media can be a blessing, but we must seek to limit the damage it can have on society. Spreading hate speech and damaging mental health are just a couple of the many negative impacts of the industry. His hard-line approach, proposing fines for breaches of the law regarding hate speech, for example, is a sensible approach – we need radical solutions to our social media problems.
I am dismayed to see that Mr Kane has neglected misinformation and fake news as subjects in his article, however I am of the opinion that he’d agree with Labour’s stance, in which we would crack down on false claims and the ability of foreign bodies to spread UK-based political messages.
There is an awful lot to change- a Liberal article
The question for this week is one that politicians have been battling over. Mainly for the fact most of them have little to no idea how social media works. You can tell this by some of the questions asked to Mark Zuckerburg during his committee interview. Therefore, I am writing perhaps already sceptical and worried what my fellow editors may write, following the same path as these congressman in phrasing the same sort of questions. I know they will prove me wrong, but let me show you three problems and hopefully ways to fix them, starting with the most basic to the most challenging.
Firstly, a solution to a problem that is really easy to fix – banning political advertisements. The policy that twitter decided to implement this week, with a generally warm welcome. However, this is far from the right policy as the Guardian noted. Social media is vast becoming the place people gain their political information.
Yes, banning adverts stops people seeing far-right or far-left information, but it also stops important information from activists or stopping political figures who are running a grass roots campaign such as Bernie Sanders in their track. They rely on social media to expand their agenda to people. Simply banning all adverts isn’t the answer.
The solution to this is to implement journalistic standards to social media. How easy is that? If you post something political on social media, it is published into the media and the ‘political sphere’. If we wanted to we could publish anything about anyone saying whatever we wanted – obviously we hold ourselves to a better standard. We need to implement the same regulations to social media that are applied to broadcast media – if you publish something political, be held to account by the same standards that have been implemented in broadcast media and print media through The Press Complaints Commission.
Secondly, how to deal with echo chambers. One of social media’s key targeting points is keeping you active online by showing you things that you are interested in. If you like a photo of a cute animal, you will see more cute animals. The same as if you like Selena Gomez’s new post, you will see more celebrities on your timeline. It works the same with newspapers, if you read or like the Daily Mail, you will see more from the Daily Mail. This is dangerous as it can keep you in the same bubble, with only one argument, one view and nothing to push against it. It causes the populace to become so engrained in believing that one view that people won’t change their way of thinking.
There is the argument that when you go to buy your newspaper you will only buy the newspaper that you intend on reading. That is true, you can still only read what you want. However, when you pick up the Guardian for example, you still have the choice and see the front page of the Daily Mail. There is still the choice, and more importantly, you see the choice.
Finally, Cambridge Analytica. They caused a massive commotion during the Brexit referendum and during the last US presidential election. If you haven’t, I recommend you watch ‘The Great Hack’ on Netflix, which gives a great starting insight into what they did. To simplify it, by using data from Facebook, Cambridge Analytica was able to find out people’s political beliefs, personality and political apathy, and then target those who they knew they could influence with fear mongering posts or deceitful campaigns.
Trinidad and Tobago shows how impressive their system is. They ran a campaign for the Indian led party which told all young voters, whether you where of African or Indian heritage not to vote. It spread nation wide, but when it came to election day, young Africans didn’t vote for their party, while young Indians where forced to by their parents, a move Cambridge Analytica predicted. This meant the Indian party won by a landslide.
The answer to Cambridge Analytica is, complicated. Social media rely on using your data for making money with advertising, and we as consumers have already agreed to this. It is still very hard to actually gain hold of your own data. It is a long and extremely complicated process to fix, with no government yet to fix the problem. The first step however, is to make it easier to access your own personal data.
Written by Max Anderson
Point of information
Algorithms are polarising our nation – a labour response
This is clearly a subject that Mr Anderson is passionate about, his response is comprehensive and full of interesting ideas.
I applaud him for raising the issue of how social media functions, using algorithms to target and filter the information that we see. Echo chambers, as he has mentioned, merely polarise voters and deny them the ability to easily consider other ideologies and opinions. We all love to talk to like-minded people, however it is not healthy to engineer one’s environment to fit one’s own opinion – our philosophy at Point of Information is that we believe in debate and the exchange of ideas, it’s the only way to develop one’s own political understanding.
Regulation, therefore, seems to be the key word of the debate. We cannot let companies like Cambridge Analytica and Facebook continue functioning as they are, it is clear the system is broken. As both Mr Kane and I have suggested, an independent regulatory body would be a suitable step towards reigning in the unchecked power of social media companies.
We need to see and hear from both sides – a Conservative response
Mr Anderson writes a thought-provoking piece this week which clearly shows the research that has clearly done. I agree with him over the echo chamber and the idea that we can be trapped into just viewing what we like and believe in. From writing for POI my views and my colleague’s views have been tried and tested and we on a weekly basis see how we all think differently. This is necessary so that our views and beliefs can be broadened so that when we do debate, we can appreciate each others opinions and views.
Mr Anderson raises the point of twitter banning political advertisements and I am not the biggest fan of the decision. It is clear that from a PR perspective it is a great move and it shows off to the world that they are tackling fake news and allowing themselves to be politics free. Yet they have only done it due to them receiving less than 3 million dollars from adverts. Clearly this amount if enough for them to do this stunt. Finally, it makes life for new candidates to get there message across and I think this is an unnecessary hindrance.