Danny Bowman FRSA explores our social media platforms, and looks at what we can do to make them into safe and successful communities.
Social media has become an integral part of our make-up as a society whether you like it or not, so we should treat it like we would any traditional community or society. It was reported by Facebook that 1.45 billion people were using their platform daily and 2.20 billion monthly users as of March 2018.
Social media has guided us all firmly to a more connected world of ideas, culture, and lifestyles. Unfortunately, it has correspondingly created a safe space for crime, bullying, and body shaming as well.
The bubble of social media in 21st-century life has divided opinion. Some argue it has provided a strengthening bond between citizens of the world. Others, including myself, have faced the undesirable side-effects of social media: side effects filled with heightened anxiety, body image pressures, and bullying.
How can we bring forward a safer society online?
It’s time for users to have a say on the guidelines of social media, not just by writing a letter or reporting a post, but through democratising social media.
Social media is a community; whilst cruising over Facebook’s guidelines, for example, you will see they mention the word ‘community’ a lot. In any community it is important that people feel they have a voice that will be listened to. It is important that in the event of a concern being expressed, people feel that the leaders of the social media community will, at the very least, take some action to reassure them that steps are being taken. In the labyrinth of social media some believe such responses of reassurance and the promise of action are more of a phenomenon then a frequent happening.
With that said, how could we democratise Facebook?
Step 1: Every year, social media companies ask their users to rank their top three concerns of the platform. These responses will be formulated, narrowing it down to five key concerns.
Step 2: The five key concerns will then be investigated by the social media platforms leaders. The leaders of the social media platforms will formerly produce two steps of action for each concern.
Step 3: The formal steps will then be provided to the community of social media, who will then be given the opportunity to vote on which suggestion they believe would be most useful in counteracting the issue. After the results are counted, social media companies will then have a responsibility to pursue the selected promises of action.
The side effects alluded to above could be reduced by starting a conversation allowing users a level of citizenship within the community of social media. This would-be part of a greater development of civic responsibility for the citizen online, as well as those in charge of the social media platforms.
This idea could create better governance, policies more reflective of the community, and better accountability on the leaders of social media and their decisions regarding the community. Allowing decisions to be made in the light, instead of the dark.
This approach could offer both members of the social media community and those in charge of social media platforms an opportunity to provide their thoughts. Members (users) of the social media community would have the ability to provide their thoughts on the guidelines of the platform, providing users with a much-needed voice and putting a level of accountability onto social media companies to deliver on their promises.
This would not disallow the social media communities’ leaders from having a say, rather the contrary. Social media companies would be able to provide two solutions on the top five anxieties of the community members to be voted on. The leaders of social media platforms would be able to write the policies, but by adhering and being led by the concerns of the communities’ members through a democratic process.
This idea removes the large divide between the users of and leaders of social media. Instead of the social media community working in silos, this idea champions a closer partnership between community members and leaders.
It must be noted that this idea is exactly that – an idea. Although, by increasing accountability, growing the level of transparency in the policy and guidelines process, and providing members of the social media community with a greater platform and a louder say in the direction of policy, social media would arguably become a better community to be part of. Only then can social media platforms begin to honestly call themselves a community.
Danny Bowman is a Fellow at the RSA, Vice chair of Trustees at Men Get Eating Disorders Too and the Director of Mental Health at Parliament Street.