Don’t forget that the internet was a novelty, the playground of the uber-nerd only 25 years ago. I remember waking up to go to work and finding my brother had spent another night playing text-based role playing games and scrolling through BBS sites. Now, some of the largest and most influential companies on the planet are domiciled on the internet. These companies, just like the technology they are based on is very young and everyone is trying to figure out the role they will play in this brave new world that we are creating.
The social media providers, most of which are less than 10 years old, want to increase their relevance and importance in our lives. They are trying to find new ways to continue the meteoric growth. One way they are doing so is by managing the content they provide to the user. By taking an active role they now decide what they think you should see; what you might enjoy, what is important and perhaps what they profit by. This is where the conundrum lies: even if they do not produce the content, they become content providers instead of an inert pool from which we must seek out our content.
By placing some content in the queue before other content, they essentially filter the content for us. In some ways this is good: if I have never watched a frolicking kitten video, the social media provider knows that I have no interest and will not suggest such a thing. As has come to light recently, we know that our news content can become colored and even biased as the social media providers continue to suggest similar content to that which we have already partaken.
The day of reckoning is approaching. These social media providers can no longer claim neutrality because they desire relevance. Social media is not just ‘for fun’ because it is being used as a marketing and promotional tool by the very design of the social media providers. As the social media providers gain power, they must assume responsibility for the content.
Should a long-respected news organization be viewed as an equal of an upstart blog peddling conspiracy theories? Do both have a ‘right’ to be on the social media platform? Should a peer-reviewed, time-tested scientific theory be given the same viewership as a crack-pot irrational hypothesis?
Now the social media providers find themselves in an awkward position: to remain relevant they must answer such questions