A few years back, at a company function, I got to talking with the head of the social media team about digital engagement with our customers.
During our tête-à-tête, he said, “If you want to start an argument on social media, simply post an opinion.”
Last month, while seated comfortably in our digital front row seats, we watched the various social media platforms Donald Trump uses (Facebook, Snapchat, Shopify, etc.) literally snatched away from him.
Trump inciting the storming of and ensuing violence against the US Congress on Jan. 6, was the last straw.
One ban surpasses all others in its symbolism: @realDonaldTrump no longer being welcomed on Twitter, the platform that defined Trump’s presidency.
Fun fact: Since 2009, Trump tweeted more than 47,000 original tweets from @realdonaldtrump.
Twitter stated, “After a close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them, we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
After years of sparring, Twitter finally de-platformed the Internet’s most famous troll.
Twitter having put up with Trump for all his presidency is a nod that discourse, anger, bullying and misinformation has monetary cache—it creates engagement, which creates viewers (eyeballs).
The number of viewers has a direct correlation to a social media’s company advertising revenue stream.
This is akin to how a newspaper’s circulation influences its advertising rates. The same can be said for television Nielsen ratings. Number of Eyeballs = Advertising Rate.
Every social media platform relies on advertising revenue for survival and being profitable. Eyeballs are what keeps social media free for you and me.
Having as many eyeballs as possible is why social media service providers allow toxicity, within their respective ‘user guidelines,’ to exist on their platform.
Discourse, anger, bullying, controversial opinions, and misinformation has monetary cache—it creates engagement, which in turn attracts eyeballs. Who amongst us doesn’t like aggressive theatrics?
What is never mentioned by those who evangelize social media policies should revolve around that all-American of value “free speech” is social media providers are private businesses.
Those who claim Trump’s de-platforming by Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, et al. was clear-cut censorship should ask themselves, is making decisions based on market viability and values censorship?
In 2021, 23 years after the first recognizable social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997, platforms are still policing themselves and the Internet is still mostly lawless.
When it comes to censorship social media providers can only be accused of ‘self-censorship’.
DISCLOSURE: I celebrate free speech, free market, and capitalism (I know, take me out back and shoot me.)
Self-censorship (aka, Content Moderation) can be narrated in two ways. The first is the narrative platforms want us to believe.
In this narration, platforms have policies and principles (accessible for public viewing), which they cling to.
Therefore, they argue their decisions are neutral since they’re made against whether the content breaks their social media platform’s rules and policies.
The second narrative is the real world. This is where platform executives are fig leaves, trying to cover arbitrary and suddenly convenient decisions to suit constantly shifting political landscapes and changing business priorities.
Raising your fist stating social media companies should never vet content posted on their respective platform, or ban a user, is naïve.
On the other hand, Trump’s Tweets should have been silenced long ago, however, Trump was good for Twitter’s business. Trump was good for all social media companies, he created eyeballs.
Two forces move this world: Love and anger. Humans tend to be much more passionate in expressing their anger (rage in most instances) than their love.
Since it can be easily expressed (even anonymously), anger has been winning on social media—and here lies the inherent problem with social media, anger is good for business!
Among social media professionals, there’s a saying which I’m sure was lifted from some radio ad exec back in the day, When the product is free, you’re the product. You and I participating, expressing either love or anger, on social media platforms are the product.
Media platforms are designed to be a conduit to our individual inner narcissism.
Great quantities of human psychology principles, predominantly around the human ego, have gone into designing your favourite social media platforms.
The side-effect, when your narcissism is fed, it can create a pattern of yielding to inner urges that often become self-destructive. Trump is the most recent example of such self-destruction, but no where near the first (Remember ‘Chair girl’?).
Holistically social media comes down to three words: LOOK AT ME! Is there any other product more self-serving, from both sides (provider, end-user), than social media? It’s because social media conveniently serves our inner narcissism that we’re on it as much as we are. (Yeah, I said it.)
When “look at me” is done respectfully, social media can be beautiful. Yes, you’re seeking to draw attention, to wanting to appear successful, an opinion, to a group or a cause, to voice your outrage, to being offended, or wanting your pain to be acknowledged— but all these, and so much more, can show our beautiful side.
Posting on social media is the equivalent of virtual hand raising. Unfortunately, in the mix is this piece of human mental DNA that fuels social media turbulence creating views; everyone believes they’re right.
There are many takeaways to be had from Trump’s social media addiction and de-platforming, such as why social media companies allow toxicity to exist on their platforms.
My biggest takeaway: Because we hold a conduit to social media, a smartphone, in our hand, we believe we’re a filmmaker, a photographer, a journalist, a commentator, a critic, we have the right to police the behaviour of others and being controversial and pushing emotional buttons will make us famous.
The ugly truth: Our smartphone makes us dangerous and the product social media companies need to exist.