Social media were originally designed to foster community exchanges between individuals sharing a common interest. Available to the wider world and to lay people, they allowed exchanges of all kinds in a given field. The question of their moderation was secondary, as long as the contributions of enthusiasts enriched their state of the art and their authors remained popular in the community. If slippage or abuse could occur, if hatred was behind the freedom of expression, then a moderator, most of the time a volunteer, intervened as a “good father”.
… to uncontrolled globalization
Victims of their success, social media models have become globalized. They have created the possibility to talk about everything and nothing to everyone, with velocity, then virality. Everyone now feels they have the right to insult anyone, without any conditions for entering into a relationship, and without any consequences even if psychological and reputational damage are caused, and without even taking the trouble to check whether a piece of information is true or false. Our digital model has now become a profitable business model for their creators and their only customers, multinational consumer goods companies.
These platforms now have systemic reach. Bad behaviour has increased, inconsistency has become commonplace and cruelty has become unbridled, leading to suicide in serious cases. So much so that the need for regulation is back on the table. But doesn’t the imperative of order and conscience contradict the freedom of expression underlying these networks? How would we agree to join them and leave our highly monetisable digital traces, without the prospect of being able to speak freely, even “badly”?
Yet there is moderation on these networks and their leaders have put in place a number of initiatives in this direction. Exchanges are constantly scrutinized by seasoned teams, using very advanced algorithms. The networks are the subject of requests for cooperation from the judiciary and States when they do not work hand in hand with intelligence services (like the NSA in the United States). Anything too far from a certain line can simply be purged and wrongful accounts suspended.
Social media have the particularity of being a public space where the concern for morality and regulation exists by destination, but where States and large private groups have a certain margin to go further, particularly in the protection of their security or that of their populations, their best interests and their vital resources.
To safe spaces?
So, hoping to get back to the basics of social networking is of limited value. Indeed, networks are plural. But if a period of discussion and great sharing of all topics has been observed, it would not be surprising if we return to a compartmentalization, already at work, between communities. Like so many “safe spaces” isolated from each other. But above all, this return is illusory insofar as only regulation can achieve results, in the same way that one can regulate a physical public space. Let us not forget that rules exist there, in everyone’s interest, for the peace and security of individuals.