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Social Media and Traditional Media are Wonderfully Different – Keep Them That Way

Social media have a lot of issues to resolve, must live up to all laws and remove content that is unlawful. But social media is not traditional media, who is regulated by media law and press ethics. That is why traditional media will always be more trustworthy and social media will be full of content that is hard to trust. Let’s keep it that way.

For over a decade, I have been fiercely critical of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. I still am. I believe his social media is undermining democracy by abusing and overusing personal data and thus making individuals transparent and vulnerable to manipulation. But in the Donald Trump / Facebook / Twitter war over how much social media shall fact-check and remove, I do agree with Mr Zuckerberg.

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg told Fox News according to the Guardian. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

This is spot on. Social media have a lot of issues to resolve, and of course social media must live up to all laws and remove content that is unlawful and also content they believe are breaching their own policies. But social media is not traditional media, who is regulated by media law and (try to) live up to press ethics – which are pretty alike in most democracies. Traditional media look through and edit all content and are thus also responsible for the content together with the creator. Therefore they always check more sources, ask the source who is accused of something to respond, disclaim their own interests and always critically consider the source’s economic and political intentions.

If we asked social media for the same that we expect of traditional media, we’d kill social media. And though I am against Facebook’s abuse of private data, Facebook/Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn have all given us all a possibility of getting our voices out. They have disrupted traditional media’s exclusive rights to publicize opinions, and that is very very good. That is also why social media in the beginning were hailed a saviors of democracy and freedom of speech. Now, however, at lot of people in traditional media and also politicians want to regulate social media.

To do proper regulation of social media, with out killing it, it is important to land at a regulation that is somewhere in between telcos and traditional media. Yes they should remove unlawful content and be punished hard, if they have not removed it within 24 hours as in Germany. But they should also let us all practise our freedom of speech. So, before attempting at any regulation like media regulation, we should enforce the existing laws such GDPR (on abuse of data) and our anti-trust laws. The GDPR has been in force for over two years now and almost nothing has happenend (see for example the open letter from NOYB and its cases against Facebook).

Social media is for all. Amateurs and professionals. And there is a lot of fake news and paid content out there. We will have to live with that, and teach ourselves and our kids how to take a critical journalistic view towards content on social media (full disclosure: I am paid by LB Forsikring to do this at dataforstå and by Copenhagen Municipality). Read this about teaching critical thinking.

“The critical mind can be exercised and trained, and can also act as a form of resistance to propaganda and plot theory. Young people must be put in a position of responsibility while being protected by the adults around them:  they can be prompted to call into question their use of social media and to take into account the criticism against the consequences of their practices. We must also trust their sense of ethics,….”

Traditional media is for professionals to create content and thus also a lot more trustworthy than social media. Traditional media should also let social media be social media, because if social media is labelled as trusted as traditional media – by e.g. common laws – then traditional media lose the last part of their raison d’etre: trustworthiness.

PS Twitter (and any other social media) is of course in its full right to label Trump’s or any one else’s tweets as being in violation with Twitter Rules, as Twitter is a private social platform living up to our democratic laws and their own social media rules.