Remember that scene in Empire Strikes Back? Lando discovers Vader is changing things. He complains and Vader responds, “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it further.”
Vader is Social Media and Lando is every business, organization or personality that has built an audience on those platforms.
Last week the big news was that most of the major social media networks had banned Alex Jones and his media channels.
I don’t consume Alex Jones or Infowars content. That is my choice. I don’t need to be protected from any sort of speech by large privately owned companies. Now, these companies can enforce their TOS as they see fit. But this road doesn’t lead to a good place.
Generally the internet is the great equalizer. There is a very low threshold to publish anything and the market decides what is good or bad. Do we really want gatekeepers?
When any corporation that bills itself as some sort of neutral platform removes a voice because they don’t like what they’re saying, that should give us all a moment of pause. Even so, many people just didn’t care, because Jones is a terrible voice.
This week it was Prager U complaining of shadow banning. While I may not agree with Dennis Prager on all things, or with every video his channels put out, he’s nothing like Alex Jones. Yet Prager U posted this:
After a bit of attention was brought to the issue, Facebook issued this apology:
Pager U was not satisfied.
We had a deal.
These are private companies and they can do whatever they like. But there are two significant problems with the sort of behavior.
First, these social media platforms have presented themselves as open networks. They don’t have views, they allows us to share our experiences and views through their networks. They have limited restrictions for content, and generally have spent a lot of time building trust with their users.
These platforms have a sort of social agreement with the users. They have built their brand on being open. This trend is a shift away from that.
Unfortunately, these platforms aren’t admitting this behavior. In fact, they deny it. They want to continue to appear to be neutral, but also cut down on the speech they don’t like. This is problematic for users.
People who use these platforms trust that they can see content from accounts they follow (like or whatever). They signed up for it, and trust that the platforms won’t censor what they want to see.
Second, these platforms have taken money from people to build their audience. They allowed these channels and accounts to be created, and to spread their message. And they encouraged them to spend money to build their audience, to boost posts, place advertising and so on.
Now- after all that time, effort, and money has been expended- they suddenly decide the message these accounts have been sharing is not allowed. They cut off access to the very audience they encouraged the accounts to build.
The deal has been altered.
Again, they can do whatever they want, but this does not lead to a good place. But hey, these channels can get their message out other ways, right? Sure, but the platforms invited them in, asked them to invest time and money. And now they don’t want them?
If they did not want this content on their platform, they should have said so from the beginning. Not after a large audience was built. Not after they accepted payment to help build that audience. Not after users signed up to get that content.
At the very least, they should immediately refund every dollar spent on boosted posts and advertising.
Businesses and channels who took these social media platforms up on their offer to build audiences didn’t do it for the short term. I manage a few accounts on different platforms, and if they suddenly threw me off for doing what I have always been doing it would be an utter shock. These accounts exist for a reason, and the users who make up my various audiences are fans/followers/etc for a reason.
The social media platforms are changing the deal, after its been struck with both users and channels.
People who build audiences have a right to expect the platform to continue to give them access to those audiences. People who use these platforms have a right to expect them to allow the content they want to see through to their feeds. Companies who use user information to generate income, and accept payment from accounts to build and reach audiences have a responsibility to those users and account owners.
Because these are private companies, there’s not much recourse. They can use other means of communication, but the audiences they built on these platforms are on those platforms. Conservative voices who find their deal is being altered can’t do much more than pray it won’t be altered further.