Harnessing the power of social media as a force for good, not evil

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Social media gets blamed, rightfully, for contributing to much of the world’s ills. It’s played a big role in election-tampering. It’s helped fuel genocide.

Last week’s dreadful mosque attacks in New Zealand were livestreamed on Facebook by the man accused of the carnage. The video was shared across a disturbing litany of social media platforms before it was shut down.

In the aftermath of Christchurch, it’s never seemed more urgent to reassess social media, take every measure possible to harness its reach and turn it into a force for good.

Social media companies are definitely working on it. All the social media giants have signed up to the European Commission’s #NoPlace4Hate campaign. They’ve pledged to remove illegal hateful content within 24 hours, though that will likely soon be reduced to one hour.

But what else could they do?

First, tech giants need to take down hateful content quickly. If you’ve ever reported a threatening or hateful tweet to Twitter -- and if you’re a woman on Twitter, you’ve probably done so more than once -- you know how long it takes to receive a response. Content moderation obviously takes time and diligence, but in the midst of terrorist attacks or other momentous world events, social media platforms need to step up so that flagged content is removed immediately and then reassessed later if prematurely or unfairly removed.

Sharing can cause hateful content to snowball in reach. And so social media platforms might also consider limiting users’ ability to share during terrorist attacks. WhatsApp is already doing this, limiting the number of times content can be shared to just five in an effort to combat fake news.

Tech giants might also consider sharing content databases so that any incendiary content on one platform would be automatically removed or barred from another. It’s an industry-wide challenge, after all, so why not join forces to fight it?

On a more granular level, as a company or an individual, consider the following measures when assessing your social media output and content:

  1. Determine your intentions. Figure out why you’re using Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or other social media platforms. Outline key reasons why you want to use social media. Ensure they’re positive and elicit smiles, not rage, and stick to them.

  2. Monitor, schedule or limit your time on social media. If you’re being sucked in while you should be working, making contacts or tending to the needs of clients, you’ve got a habit that you need to kick. Consider the Freedom app, which blocks some sites for a set period of time.

  3. Banish the negative. Clean up your feed, deleting snarky posts and comments. If there are social media feeds or users who raise your hackles, unfollow, mute, unfriend or block.

  4. Get together more often with friends, clients and contacts in person. It’s healthier anyway!

Social media is obviously here to stay. Together, and with the help of social media platforms, we should be doing everything we can to make it a force for positivity.