The problem with misinformation online is not new and unknown anymore, but it seems to be far from being solved. The thing is, the big social giants that we check in with every day, are now SO big, you could almost sympathise with their creators. Almost.
Getting rid of user accounts, or even any of these giants, in order to halt showstopper problems is almost akin to deleting the internet. The problem is, the internet isn’t a black box with a blinking light on it that you can just switch off. It’s a multiple headed hydra; sever one head and 100 more grow in its place. And it grows in perpetuity. The bottom line here is there’s no stopping this thing from now to Star Trek.
Facebook is aware that their platform is used to spread misinformation (or ‘fake news’). They’re also aware that it and their sister platform Instagram are linked to mental health issues. Apple have somewhat addressed this with the introduction of Screentime.
Twitter is aware that their platform has millions of fake accounts (or ‘bots’), which seek to polarise political (or any) debate to toxic levels; be it destabilising foreign adversaries or ‘doxing’ individuals. Recent stats suggest that nearly half of all internet traffic is by bots. Watch/listen to this recent podcast interviewing CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey.
And YouTube is aware that their platform facilitates paedophile rings. The closest they’ve come to doing anything about it is apparently demonetising problematic videos (removed the ads), but the videos and comments sections are still being used by paedophiles to coordinate themselves.
As horrible as all of these things are, it is made even more sinister that these platforms …make millions of dollars profiting from all of these problems. They’re all listed companies. They don’t have ‘quick fixes’ and they can’t be ‘switched off’. Their performance is deeply embedded in the world economy. Advertising is the reason we get to use all this stuff for free. That said, we are still paying a price. We’re the ones figuring out how to protect our kids. We’re the ones that know a flat earther or an anti-vaxxer. They’re all people we love and it’s confusing and scary.
The most effective thing I can do today is to remove myself where possible. Sure, some of these things I’m not going to fully remove myself from, here’s why:
As toxic as an environment Twitter can be, it’s currently one of the most important political stages of our time. Let’s run with that metaphor one step further: information has been weaponsied to such an extent that it may soon be proved to be the cause of lasting damage to the United States of America by long-time adversaries. Not only is Twitter a political stage, it is today’s theatre of war; attacks no longer take place on land/sea/air, they are executed digitally in plain sight to destabilise regimes.
…I know how that sounds.
Understanding what I’m reading, who it’s from, context, and tempering what I’m reading with a broader range of sources, knowing that content may be algorithmically fed to me (thus exacerbating confirmation bias) – it is all my responsibility. To think how easy and carefree it used to feel to buy a newspaper is increasingly antique. My other aggregated news sources remain Reddit and SBS newsflash. Reddit uses algorithms, and SBS like other networks have owners with agendas (well, all companies exist for one primary agenda – to make money for their owners).
I’m removing all of my video content from YouTube, and Sarah and I have deleted the YouTube app from anything our kids can access (not even the YouTube Kids app is safe). As far as I’m concerned now, you need to be 18+ to be left alone with YouTube and understand the risks it poses. Even then, fully grown and educated adults can still get pulled into conspiracy rabbit holes (where there are still videos with 1,000s of views that generate ad revenue for YouTube). These algorithmic rabbit holes are largely responsible for convincing hundreds of thousands of people the Earth is flat. Watch Behind the Curve on Netflix for more on that.
Anything I feel that serves me in a commercial sense I will keep published on Vimeo. YouTube still serves as one the most important learning tools in my life. The playlists I’ve maintained on it for years serve as my memory palace for any Photoshop, photography, or illustration tutorial I’ve ever gotten something from. I learned how to shop the attached/above image using this short YouTube tutorial.
And then there’s Facebook. I scroll through my newsfeed, and honestly, I don’t see my family and friends on it anymore. It’s all ads and articles. It’s all stuff I don’t need. I can now stand back and safely say that any need Facebook once fulfilled for me is now fulfilled by alternative and better quality means. Sharing photos nowadays is closer to a vanity project than keeping people up to date, and it feels like anyone I know has matured in their use of photo sharing, specifically with regards to consent. Everything else is junk, memes and noise. All 500GB worth of my personal photos are now safe from hard drive failure/fire in a free 1TB OneDrive account sync’d to my machine. The majority of all personal photo sharing is very meaningfully done with loved ones on Whatsapp. It’s not lost on me that Whatsapp is part of Facebook, but for now, I’m comfortable that what I’m sharing there is private and not being abused or algorithmically profited from in any way (Whatsapp terms of service).
Lastly, I’m not gone or going anywhere. Everyone who knows me knows how to contact me, or I actually just see them on the reg’. This digital health check isn’t solving all the world’s problems and neither has it culled everything. What’s left remains public domain:
- craigjlmacdonald.com – geared towards promoting any photo/video stuff I do on the side. Any random stranger can still email me direct from here (hey, who knows where those opportunities come from next), and it links to my Insta, Vimeo and Blog;
- Twitter – @craigjlmacd – geared as a personal profile where I follow personal interests and consume information; and
- LinkedIn – in/craigjlm – geared as a professional profile that leverages social proof for my CV, maintains ‘personal brand’ and loops me into local industry things.
Here’s to staying safe online (and offline), and continuing to work out how we find our way through this crazy, crazy world as it and our understanding of it constantly evolves.
“Don’t confine your children to your own learning, for you were born in another time.”