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Malaysia

Regulating the social media is complex but necessary — Nadia Zaifulizan

JUNE 17 — People would always want to connect and share. They stay online and make the necessary arrangements and facilities accessible as many times in a day as they possibly can. It gives them a sense of satisfaction — that they can be found even when they are millions of miles out of reach.

And social media is among the easiest way that they can be free to dive into as much information that they desire as well as to reach out to as many people as they can. They can even do so in a way that enables them to pick out what people are able to see and restricting how much of themselves that people are able to know.

After the internet became a more popular communication option in the late 80s and social media began to grow in the early 90s, there has been a continuous flow of abundant information online.

Since the volume of information distributed is constantly more than the volume of information consumed, there is a growing sense of competition of how much information and content can attract, entice, and engage users' attention. In modern terms, some might identify this as the “attention economy.”

Unfortunately, the many roles of social media are also subject to abuse and violations. For this year alone, several controversial and explicit photos and videos (some targeting high-profile individuals, while some target the common civilians), were widely spread through Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter etc; without any moderation or content control for the mass users.

While some of them are material that are helpful for investigations, the fact that some people believe that making these media (photos, video, etc) public knowledge first before submitting them for law enforcer’s information and investigation in order for justice to be served, is a cause for concern.

Are people losing faith in the normal law enforcement processes? Is justice only guaranteed to be faster for those cases that are made viral? Or is going viral the only sure way of obtaining justice? What happens to the cases who are as equally devastating but was not publicly shared first before it was reported to the law enforcement authorities?

In addition, the trends of these past years also show that even the usual online activities during major events (such as general elections) indicate social media abuse, spread of false information, and cyberbullying.

Back in March of this year, in another part of the world, a shooting attack in Christchurch was live-streamed on Facebook. Before the attack, the shooter announced his manifesto and propagandic intentions online, on 8chan and Facebook page.

The video itself was cross-posted across multiple platforms, an indicator of how the shooting attack was designed to go viral. By the time reports were filed and the original video of the attack was taken down by Facebook within 24 hours, there were 1.5 million reupload attempts by users.

Facebook claimed that the reuploaded videos were removed (following the removal of the original video). However, from the start of the video stream until a while after it ended, the time it took for Facebook to receive a report alerting them of the incident and consequently taking action reflects the limitations of immediate online content moderation and policy regulations.

In this “attention economy,” what goes viral and attracts the most attention, obtains a higher “value” compared to the rest. This “value” means that any message that they wish toconvey to the world will be heard, regardless of its content. Some people have this in mind when they navigate and utilise the huge potential power of social media.

Since it is used by many but regulated by none, 1) the quick detection of an emergency, immediate danger, extremely inappropriate content, or sudden crisis, 2) the contingency response and action plan in the event of such “emergency,” and 3) the effective and immediate prevention and control of violations and abuse, are an inevitable need for each social media platform.

This indicates the need for some regulations or adequate policy enforcements.

Unfortunately, regulating social media is a complex and intricate problem by itself. While advocates of regulation vouch for the preservation of public interest, security, and protection from interest parties with the resources for content manipulation, the critics are concerned with the oppression of important discourse, manipulation of regulations, and the suppression of open expression.

The idea of losing initiative for innovation due to imposed control, as well as the implications of control as reflected in some countries’ authoritarian regimes, are also a cause for concern in the debacle.

Although concerns regarding the regulator, the process, and the fairness of regulations are as equally important as the regulations itself, they are better off perceived as the agents of improving the building blocks of these regulations, instead of being viewed as the reasons to go without.

Consumption of content is all-encompassing across multiple platforms, and yet many are unaware of the motives and processes behind the contents consumed.

The elements viewed on these platforms are not always as simple as a common subject among users, some of them are strategically designed to favour one entity above the other in issues that matter, and fuel the polarisation of public opinion based on carefully curated contents such as news, advertisements, and shared information.

Without effective attempts for regulation, the future implications of current trends would be catastrophic. Public opinion and their subsequent actions would be even more shaped and influenced by the powers that be, the corporations that own, or the occasional opportunistic, ill-intent individuals.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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