The first popular Social Media Network was launched in 1997 and was called ‘Six Degrees’ and it was a simple website where users could upload pictures of each other and talk to other users. 3.484 billion people are now active on social media, a rise of 10% from the previous year. With 88% of 18 to 29-year-olds in America using social media, it is now an essential part of all young people’s life. However, social media is now a victim of its own success, with billions of users it is impossible for companies like Facebook and Twitter to hire enough employees to check every image, video and live stream being posted on their platform.
Currently, Washington D.C state is suing Facebook for allowing a private political consultancy company Cambridge Analytica to access to the data of millions of Facebook users without their permission. This litigation against Facebook may become a trend with other states in the United States and other countries in the world starting to sue Facebook which will put a lot of pressure on the social media platform financially due to the cost of defending itself in the courts but also the potential concessions they will need to give that will involve collecting fewer data. This will hurt Facebook as user data allows for advertisers on Facebook to target people more precisely which is why Facebook recorded $55 billion advertising revenues just in 2018.
But Facebook is not the only social media company to be sued, Twitter is currently being sued by Republican politician Devin Nunes for $250 million for “defamation, negligence and conspiracy” caused by user-generated content on the Twitter platform. This shows another issue with social media is that despite platforms not generating such content themselves they are hosting it, and its circumstances such as these when an individual feels like their image is being tarnished by false information the platforms get dragged into the courts too.
Apart from the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Facebook and other social media platforms have been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons after the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand that saw the perpetrator livestream the whole shooting on Facebook for close to 20 minutes without the video being taken down, it was subsequently downloaded and shared all around the internet. This event has led former Facebook CEO Charmath Palihapitiya to say that Facebook should consider a livestreaming ban as it is too hard to regulate and stop if someone decides to do something against Facebook terms and services on the livestream. In March 2019, Mark Zuckerberg said that governments around the world should fund regulation of social media platforms like Facebook as it is too expensive for Facebook itself to hire enough staff to double check every new post on the platform. However, this raises questions about government surveillance and censorship.
Despite the countless faults of social media platforms, the majority of the issues apart from not asking users for permission to use their data are caused by the users. The success and popularity of all social media platforms are down to users having the freedom to post whatever they want without worrying about being censored. There will always be ‘a few bad apples’ but in order to have a free and open society, we cannot allow for one deranged white supremacist, for example, to prevent all the other hundreds of millions of law-abiding citizens from livestreaming.