Why Aren't Social Media Companies Better At Moderating Their Networks?
The task of moderating platforms as massive as Facebook, Google, and YouTube is dizzyingly complex. Hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute; Facebook has 2 billion users and tens of millions of groups and pages to wrangle. Moderation is fraught with justifiable concerns over free speech and bias. The sheer breadth of malignant content on these platforms is daunting — foreign sponsored ads and fake news on Facebook; rampant harassment on Twitter; child exploitation videos masquerading as family content on YouTube. The problem the platforms face is a tough one — a Gordian knot of engineering, policy, and even philosophical questions few have good answers to.
But while the platforms like to conflate these existential moderations problems with the breaking news and incident-specific, in reality they’re not the same. The search queries that Broderick and others use to uncover event-specific misinformation that the platforms have so far failed to mitigate are absurdly simple — often it requires nothing more than searching the full name of the shooter or victims.
In battling misinformation the big tech platforms face a steep uphill battle. And yet, it's hard to imagine any companies or institutions better positioned to fight it. The Googles and Facebooks of the world are wildly profitable and employ some of the smartest minds and best engineering talent in the world. They're known for investing in expensive, crazy-sounding utopian ideas. Google has an employee whose title is Captain of Moonshots — he is helping teach cars to drive themselves — and succeeding!
Obviously the answer to this problem is all about how we define success.
For users, success looks like an network that is:
- easily consumed
For networks themselves, success looks like a network that:
- encourages engagement
- keeps users on site
- keeps users coming back
Some measures of success overlap, but to the extent those goals do not, users are left frustrated.
Remember, our dollars don't support social media. Advertisers' dollars do. Users are not the networks' priority. Advertisers are.
Much like a crack dealer, social networks are not primarily concerned with the quality of their product. They are only concerned with whether the product will keep you around and keep you coming back.
Google’s core DNA is search and engineering, though some would say engineering that is driven by the economics of search, which makes it hard for the company to see the world through any other lens. Apple’s lens is that of product, design, and experience. This allows it to make great phones and to put emphasis on privacy, but makes it hard for them to build data-informed services.
Facebook’s DNA is that of a social platform addicted to growth and engagement. At its very core, every policy, every decision, every strategy is based on growth (at any cost) and engagement (at any cost). More growth and more engagement means more data — which means the company can make more advertising dollars, which gives it a nosebleed valuation on the stock market, which in turn allows it to remain competitive and stay ahead of its rivals.