This post is provoked by an interesting elevator conversation. There are a bunch of odd-jobs men who serve in various capacities in the condo where I live. Not unusually, I often engage in swapping ideas, understanding perspectives, across the digital divide. Except, the gap has been closing very rapidly.
Today, for instance, one of them pulls out his smartphone, a high-end Samsung set, and asks me, “How do I post pictures on Facebook?”, and then he promptly showed me the picture he was posting and the warning message that followed. I read it out in English and then translated for him in Hindi and his native dialect. It seems Facebook has restricted him from publishing content because they infringe on community guidelines. I gave him a short lecture on what he shouldn’t post, i.e. pornography, inflammatory content, etc. and then he showed me, all he was posting was a good morning message with a flower. I got off the elevator, telling him that the message also mentioned he had been blocked for 3 hours, so he could attempt to repost later.
This has set me thinking: Clearly, in their rush to show investors high growth, all the above digital, social channels and platforms are perhaps, not really concerned on who joins these networks, and what they post. It takes a few seconds to set up a social media account, it takes longer and more documentation to get a SIM card for mobile data access in India. And then, just a few ‘I agree’ buttons later, you are good to go, and can start posting on all channels. On a smartphone, am not even sure, if the standard disclaimer text (as Google used to put up in its early beta days, the ‘Usual Yada Yada’ is even shared). So, we have a phenomenon, where neo-literates, who have trouble signing their name in any language, participating in sharing and creating content on social, digital channels.
Here is, for instance, the Facebook Community Standards. Couched in comfortable, non-offensive language, are various kinds of threats that the social network recognizes and acts upon. Similarly, here’s the YouTube community charter. And then the place which gave life to the word: “Internet Trolls” and sustains most of the abusive behavior online- Twitter too, has community guidelines. I haven’t checked but am sure Instagram and Whatsapp have similar text in their T&C space, as also perhaps, Snapchat. Doesn’t make the cut! In hashtag speak. #Epic #Fail.
I have an issue with all the above! None of them have even considered the need to create a graphical guide. With the next billion coming online, in many new languages, dialects and sensibilities, there seems to be no attempt being made by any of these networks and the folks who work there to bring out a code of conduct.
Let me put it another way. Since, all these companies are US based, I assume all of them have ethical compliance standards for all the behaviours that infringe on corporate governance and conduct. I know this first hand, having spent all my corporate days, in MNC’s ( American, British and Finnish) where an ‘ethics training’ and annual refresher was a must-do, as standard HR practice.
Am appalled that a similar video hasn’t played out on any timeline/newsfeed/on any social digital network/channel- ever! Worse still, running a digital media consulting firm over the last decade, I have come across zillions of acts of impersonation, abuse and trolling, where CEO’s, comms heads, celebs, and private profiles have been cloned, and repeated requests by the affected to these networks haven’t succeeded in bringing down those offending pages.
And now to the point of politically, and communally inflammatory content, the misuse and abuse is so rampant that online abuse is leading to on-ground retribution. And not a word of contrition from the networks, which have legally couched community guidelines, which save the corporate entities from punitive action across the globe, and not even a fig leaf to educate, protect and guide their communities on socially acceptable ‘decent’ behavior online.
The least I expect, is a graphical guide, maybe like the one suggested by astronomer physicist Carl Sagan, and then adopted by NASA on all its galactic probes, to tell the other worlds, about our world. The image above kept space cadets like me, enthralled, through the 70’s.
And I insist that all the networks, mentioned above, start seriously working on a common code of conduct, which keeps people safe online. And it starts with people understanding what they can share, and what they can’t when they sign-in, whether they can read English, or any other language or none at all. If we fail to do this, we agree to wake up to “Fake News” on Google, “offensive” language in all dialects on Twitter, and of course, temporary bans to Facebook posts like the odd-jobs bloke I started this post with.
I have two thoughts to end this note with, but I think Stan Lee’s paraphrase of Voltaire in SpiderMan captures it aptly. Here’s the comic strip, and clip from the movie.
With Great Power comes Great Responsibility!
Over to you social digital network bosses!