The End of Social Media?

image credit: Tyler Merbler

published by Chand Bellur
January 13, 2021 at 10:22 p.m.
  • Twitter permanently banned lucrative social media icon Donald Trump, after inciting a historical insurrection.
  • Analysts claim that Twitter’s Trump-derived revenues may account for twenty percent of the social media company’s earnings.
  • Despite five deaths caused by an unprecedented insurrection, YouTube continues to host Donald Trump’s lucrative channel, with 2.72 million subscribers; however, he cannot post new content for a week.
  • Facebook intends to disallow the President from publishing new posts until at least the end of his term.

Social Media Fuels US Insurrection

Myths and conspiracy theories continue to propagate on social media; however, these fallacies are nothing new. Powerful new media, driven by AI algorithms, can sometimes turn everyday viewers into fanatics. At a mass scale, social media converted approximately 40% of Americans to doubt the recent Presidential election’s validity.

With most of his supporters doubting the election, President Trump used Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to encourage disgruntled Americans to overthrow the government. Five people lost their lives due to the ensuing mayhem. Motivated by false information of election fraud, propagated mostly on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, the insurrection is the first in US history.

Big Tech’s response ranges from Twitter’s outright permanent ban to relatively little action from YouTube, which still allows Trump’s channel to operate. Although the San Bruno based video platform eventually took down Trump’s content encouraging violence, its attempt at moderating Trump is, by far, the weakest of any tech corporation.

YouTube never applied its hate speech rules to Trump, who is well known for defaming “Mexicans” as rapists, thieves, and murderers. Instead, the company profited from his racist content for years.

After the January 6 insurrection, YouTube merely restricted the President from uploading videos for a week, although five people died from the violence. The recent action against Trump is the “first strike” against his account. YouTube will allow Trump to resume communication on the platform in the future.

Donald J. Trump’s channel is still valid, propagating his message and earning revenues for YouTube.

An outright ban on Trump’s YouTube channel would negatively impact the bottom line. Insurrections, pandemics, and chaos keep people at home, watching YouTube. Although it’s unclear whether YouTube engineers chaos for the sake of profit, research shows that its algorithms radicalize conservatives into extremists. YouTube enables chaos and profits from it; however, there’s no proof this is an intentional business model. It may be a consequence of the reckless pursuit of profit.

Twitter, on the other hand, banned Trump permanently at great expense to the micro-blogging platform. The company lost $5 billion in stock value by the next trading day. Trump, well known for his inflammatory Tweets, was mostly given free rein by the company until recently. Twitter eventually began moderating Trump’s hate speech and misinformation by labeling individual Tweets. Shortly after the insurrection in DC, Twitter permanently banned Trump’s account and any proxy that he used to communicate.

Facebook’s response was somewhere in between Twitter’s lifetime ban and YouTube’s concern for profitability. The Menlo Park based social media giant restricted the President from posting anything on its platform until the end of his term, or perhaps longer. Proxy accounts don’t seem to be affected, however. Much like YouTube, and unlike Twitter, Facebook refuses to kill the golden goose.

Misinformation Age Started With YouTube Flat Earth Movement

Conspiracy theories and fake news have existed for centuries. Yellow journalism served to generate support for the Spanish-American war. Our leaders’ legacies are revised continuously, converting the crooked into heroes.

The difference is that these misleading stories at least had some semblance of truth and sanity. They also weren’t obsessively pushed on the public using addictive algorithms.

A few years ago, videos started surfacing on YouTube, presenting the case that the Earth is flat and not round. Although this may seem idiotic to most, the YouTube videos converted many people into believing the Earth is flat.

BBC News broke the story back in 2019, producing a short video demonstrating how the process works. The news story’s subject contends he started watching videos about the moon landing on YouTube. Eventually, YouTube began to recommend videos demonstrating that the Earth is flat. After a few minutes of the first video, the subject stopped watching, as he considered the flat Earth theory to be nonsense. YouTube kept offering flat Earth videos, and he eventually succumbed. After watching more convincing and detailed videos, the subject now believes that the Earth is flat.

The BBC story interviews former YouTube engineer Guillaume Chaslot, who helped develop its recommendation engine. After working extensively on the project, he figured out that YouTube recommends the most lucrative videos — ones that people will watch and share the most. 

“Flat Earth was much more recommended than videos explaining why the Earth is round. Why did the algorithm prefer this flat Earth video? Because they make you watch more content, they make you see more ads.”

Unlike parent corporation Google, truth and authority aren’t as important to YouTube. The company responded to the BBC News story, contending that platform changes result in better recommendations. Nonetheless, we continue to see real-world violence emanate from conspiracy theories spread on YouTube and social media. The company has been unable to put the genie back in the bottle. If anything, it smashed the bottle!

Double Standards in Moderation

Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and every Big Tech company accommodate Donald Trump’s hate speech because it’s lucrative. Everyday users who conduct even a fraction of Trump’s mischief face lifetime bans on all of these platforms.

It’s not just everyday users who are moderated unfairly by Big Tech. YouTube removed videos posted by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other anti-hate groups, as they considered them to be hate speech. All the while, the company allows Trump’s lucrative channel to continue operating.

With recent action against Donald Trump, YouTube public relations misled journalists about the mild rebuke. A recent NPR article claims the company has a multi-strike policy of warnings and escalating punishments. YouTube does not give average users multiple strikes for violations. The company is well known for permanently banning users for mere comments, while more lucrative YouTubers can transmit hate and sew deadly disorder without so much as a slap on the wrist.

You can still find hours of video interviews with Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, where he insults women and minorities for his amusement. Although YouTube deleted his account, proxies like the Joe Rogan Experience continue to spread his message on the platform.

These Gavin McInnes videos, and many more, are still available on YouTube. Banned YouTubers can still reach audiences by proxy. Twitter banned Trump’s proxy accounts in an effort to silence his message of discord and bigotry completely. This is something YouTube seems unwilling to do.

End-user agreements and section 230 of the Communications Decency Act allow YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others to moderate users as they see fit. YouTube can ban anyone for any reason, and its moderation vastly favors elites and golden geese. 

Social media isn’t accountable to the Constitution or free speech. Instead, Big Tech’s moderation processes are Kafka-esque, with one set of rules for the high earners, such as multiple strikes and limited censorship, and other, much more extreme moderation imposed on the average, unimportant user. It’s no wonder YouTube remains the only tech company to succumb to a mass shooting — a result of its moderation gone awry. Given today’s violent climate, future incidents seem likely.

YouTube is a Haven For Alt-Right News

Newsmax (1.8 million subscribers), One America News (1.4 million subscribers), and other far-right news organizations continue to spread misinformation on YouTube, with little moderation. Given that cable services are reluctant to host extreme right content, these entities have found their home on YouTube.

Although some of their news stories are accurate, the sum total of what is covered, how it’s treated, and what’s ignored creates highly biased news sources. This, combined with YouTube’s algorithms, ensures that millions of Americans will continue to be misled by far-right news organizations.

Trump’s recent endorsement of both Newsmax and OAN’s YouTube presence boosted subscribers to both accounts. As Fox News continues to distance itself from Trump, Newsmax and OAN serve as the new platforms for Trump’s message. Once again, it’s clear that hate speech and misinformation are tolerated on YouTube, as long as it’s lucrative or done through a proxy.

image credit: Comparably; A picture of YouTube’s leadership may shed some light on the company’s reluctance to rein in alt-right activity. San Bruno’s population is only 44% white, with the SF Bay Area being considerably diverse. Nonetheless, YouTube’s leadership is remarkably white, especially for the SF Bay Area. This may be why the company seems to administer largely symbolic rebukes to high-earning personalities, regardless of bigotry and incitement of violence. No one in their leadership has experienced racism or discrimination, and, like most in corporate America, they seem to lack empathy. Donald Trump’s cabinet is more diverse than YouTube leadership. Both San Bruno and California are Spanish names and were once part of Mexico, yet YouTube doesn’t seem to have a single Latinx in top leadership. Having lived and worked in the Valley for 25 years, YouTube’s lack of diversity is truly unique to the SF Bay Area.

The End of Social Media or the End of America?

It’s now abundantly clear that social media creates more harm than good. Most people are unwilling to trade off cat photographs and semi-professional videos for political instability. Most of us keep in contact with friends using text messaging and email, as always. Indeed, one could consider Apple’s iMessage platform to be the largest social networking platform, as its use outpaces that of Facebook Messenger or any other competing social media chat app. Apple managed to do this without forcing provocative conspiracy theories on the end-user, only because this is not their business model.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and others rely on provocation and generating obsession and addiction to produce wealth. The claim of connecting people throughout the world is true, but it’s how they connect us that’s the problem.

Relying on popular, captivating, provocative, and extreme content to keep eyes on screens, these corporations have little else to offer. Twitter didn’t create a fantastic smartphone. It started massive amounts of hype over ridiculously simplistic software. Social media’s true “products” are firebrands like Donald Trump, Gavin McInnes, and others. Hateful, respectful, or somewhere in between, it’s profitability that determines social media moderation strategies.

Will Twitter’s “permanent” ban of Trump endure? It’s doubtful, given that he accounted for twenty percent of the company’s revenues. They’ll wait until it all blows over, and Trump will likely be Tweeting again. The money is just too great to refuse, even if it jeopardizes the nation. After all, Jack Dorsey and his cohorts can just bugger off to French Polynesia or some other paradise, should America decay into permanent chaos.

Social media companies don’t care about America or us. They’re only concerned with profits.

We’re in a race condition to see what gets killed first. Will social media die off, saving the nation, or will it destroy America along with itself? After the recent insurrection and Silicon Valley’s expectedly self-preserving reaction, this new breed of robber barons will likely milk their business models until our nation disintegrates into chaos. Social media, as we know it today, will die off. The concern is that it may take America with it.

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