Kathy Ehman

Roger McNamee, once on Facebook’s payroll, called for the social media site to be shut down during the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy in Ottawa last week.

The use of social platforms to influence elections, spread hate and false news is on the global radar and this is a good thing but shutting it down would be rather like banning cars to stop impaired, distracted or aggressive drivers.

We depend on our police and court systems to get dangerous drivers off the road and they in turn often depend on civilians to provide evidence to help them do the job. A partnership.

The idea of turning over the structuring and policing of social media platforms to government is unsettling. The governments of the wealthiest nations could not afford the money or personnel to take on such a task. They don’t have the bank accounts of Mark Zuckerberg, nor is there worldwide agreement on how to manage the pandemic of abuse on internet platforms. Shut down Facebook in one country and you’ll have legitimate users from every other country screaming foul because they’ve lost a cheap and enjoyable way to stay connected with one another.

McNamee isn’t crying wolf when he says the platforms are dangerous but he’s wrong in suggesting the only recourse is to shut them down until they police themselves or politicians reshape them into something safe and nice.

Another solution, which US based, nonprofit group AVAAZ has been effectively pursuing, is to rely on tens of thousands of volunteers who grab questionable or hateful posts and shake them until the truth falls out. (Avaaz is a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere).

Since its inception AVAAZ members’ investigative fervour has resulted in tens of thousands of misleading or hateful sites being taken down. Page by page. That’s where the real power for change lies - with people who love the medium but hate the message when it’s full of lies.

Kathy Ehman

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