Last year in New Zealand, a shooter gruesomely and callously recorded and posted video live to social media using a body cam. Despite nearly immediate and aggressive means to remove the footage (YouTube eliminated it from users’ pages 1.5 million times in the first 24 hours), it lived on for weeks. While that is an example in the terrible extreme, it, along with constant and continuing vitriol across social platforms, continues to beg the question: Does social media need a more effective monitoring and vetting process?
It is a question asked and examined by Jonathan Rauch in his article, “Wait a Minute,” in The Atlantic’s August issue. In the piece he posits that, “instantaneous communication can be destructive. We need to tweak our digital platforms to make time for extra eyes, cooler heads and second thoughts.” All very legitimate points. Traditional media offers such checkpoints through editors and fact checkers, radio talk shows with mic to air delays of 7-20 seconds or more. Social media, of course, is immediate with virtually anyone able to post anything at anytime. Most of us are not professional journalists nor do we play one on TV.
What if, Rauch writes, there was some sort of delay from the time of writing a post or tweet to the time of its being made public, giving fact checkers more time to vet and potentially postpone particular posts? And what if a message came back to a Facebook or Twitter user after a certain “cooling off” period, double-checking whether they really wanted to post what they had originally written. After all, there is something to be said about the “24-hour rule” and thinking before we say, write or do something we might regret later.
Some would argue that this would be tantamount to censorship and undercut freedom of speech as a basic fundamental right. Certainly, others would argue, this right should not be regulated by individuals in the ether whose agendas and biases would be unknown. Still others would point to the fact that the major social outlets DO police content, although it is a virtually impossible task, considering Twitter’s 500,000 tweets per day alone.
We can all agree on the fact that no one wants a dystopian society such as that portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984. But can we as a society, self-regulate? Somewhere there must be a compromise and a better way forward so that social media presents more facts and less attacks and opens more pathways for healthy and effective two-way (or more) communication. Through it all there is still the basic fundamental question: Do the majority of us have it in us to police the words, thoughts and images that come out of us? Maybe – if we stop, look and listen for a moment – before we leap.