This is a new problem for politicians and campaign managers on two levels. First, the insult or fabrication lives forever on the net. You can reduce its visibility but you can never erase the potential for someone to re-post it later. The Christchurch murderer’s live-streaming of his slaughter was posted, taken down, and reposted many times in the days that followed. The second problem is that falsehoods really do fly today, to be viewed in Bangalore or Barcelona milliseconds apart.
The social media titans claim that by hiring thousands of human screeners to look out for filth and fibs they are fixing the problem. They are certainly doing more than in the worst years in the social media swamp. But they have two problems: scale and standards. YouTube’s 1.3 billion users upload three hundred hours of video every minute. It is simply not possible to screen that volume in realtime even if you had ironclad rules governing what was permissible – which, of course, we don’t.
Many third parties attempt to play watchdog. In the United States the “Political Ad Archive” attempts to record and make available every political ad aired on any medium. Facebook and Twitter now say they will record to “the best of their ability” the true purchaser of ad time, their contact details, and history. Good Luck.
This asks the question: why this mess is not better governed by statute, regulations and clear penalties, just as govern television broadcasters and newspapers are? Why would we cede to Facebook the right to be the judge of what is acceptable? Especially as a tough enforcement policy against defamatory material might risk pushing the purveyors — and their millions of dollars — to another platform.
“The International Grand Committee on Disinformation And ‘Fake News,’” the rather pompously named gathering of privacy and social media experts from countries as varied as Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Latvia, and Singapore, met in Ottawa recently making the case that an international governmental response was essential to “draining the swamp,” as it were.
However, as we enter campaign season in Canada none of the privacy changes promised by Ottawa are likely to be in place, the tech giants will continue to claim they are trying really, really hard, and the flow of written, verbal and video trash will be unchecked.
All that candidates and campaigns can do to defend themselves is to assemble armies of volunteer monitors to flag rubbish when they see it, denounce it on their own platforms and then demand that the social media barons take it down immediately.
It seems inevitable though that there will be outrageous attacks and angry battles over them before we reach election day.
© Toronto Star