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USA | Feb 3, 2024

Makhulu | Action, not a bag of mouth! It’s time that adequate protective guard rails be put up around social media usage

/ Our Today

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Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Nathan Howard)

Here we go again.

Big social media company CEOs were brought out before a Senate hearing for a scolding and tongue lashing earlier this week and nothing got accomplished.

The big shots bowed there heads, took the admonishments, were contrite then jetted back home in their Gulfstreams

Billions will still pour into their companies and free speech reigns.

Many in America say that social media is damaging the youth and that young children are exposed to vile images and demeaning content.

One study shows 46 per cent of teens say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies another proclaims that 64 per cent of teens on social media are exposed to hate-based content.

Here in Jamaica, many young women like to parade themselves on social media, they call it “thirst traps”. This is new feminine empowerment. If you don’t have thousands of “likes” then you are not saying anything. You are a nobody. “Yuh Nuh Hot”!

Some say social media has a large part to play in the moral decay and diminution of western culture and values. Today, you can do and say anything on social media, even hold up your father’s decapitated head.

If there was truly the will to protect children from harmful content and prevent hate speech and vile misinformation then measures would be taken years ago.

It is hypocrisy at its most distasteful to drag out these CEOs every few months and lambast them, knowing they will never engage in effective self-monitoring. At the end of the day, they have to make as much money as they can, and that comes from clicks and engagement.

It is for governments to impose and enforce measures.

Yes, there’s free speech but now you have a portal into hell and your children are going into it- just like that little girl in the movie “Poltergeist”.

This week saw CEOs of five big tech/social media companies namely: Linda Yaccarino (X), Mark Zuckerberg (Meta), Evan Spiegel (Snap) Jason Citron (Discord) and Shou Zi Chew (Tin Tok) summoned before a Senate Hearing.

Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew, X Corp’s CEO Linda Yaccarino, Co-founder and CEO of Snap Inc. Evan Spiegel, and Discord’s CEO Jason Citron attend the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Nathan Howard)

They took a beating, particularly Zuckerberg and Chew. Zuckerberg was forced to turn and face an audience and apology for harm caused to children using his platform. Senator Hawley said Zuckerberg hides behind a liability shield and that he should go into his own pocket and personally pay for damage caused to kids.

The Attorney General for New Mexico said that Meta is the world’s single largest marketplace for paedophiles.

Many parents have abrogated their responsibilities and duty of care, allowing their children to spend hours on social media, unsupervised. It’s the modern way. Then one hears howls of indignation when kids have mental problems, have short attention spans, engage in anti-social behaviour, have suicidal tendencies. They have willingly put their children’s hands into that of the Devil as he leads them into hell.

Listening to Senators Tom Cotton, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz rip into the CEOs, it was clear it was just for show-all talk no action. Sure, social media can be considered a health risk so what preventative measures must be taken? With another contentious Presidential election coming up what lessons can be learned from the previous one and how can the rivers of misinformation be dammed?

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) gestures as he asks questions during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

The fact is these tech/social media companies are just too big and powerful to control. The whip is in their hands, not governments’. In fact when expedient, governments themselves turn to social media to propagate messaging.

For damage caused particularly to children there must be an element of civil liability which should keep these social media companies in check.

Shou Zi Chew of TikTok took the hardest hits and at times there were elements of racism thrown at him but he remained cool under fire, he keep his composure throughout. He was told he was an agent of the Chinese Government whose intent was to poison the minds of American children. Chew kept insisting he is Sinaporean but it didn’t seem to matter. Why does Tim Tok offer wholesome content to Chinese kids but dangerous content to Americans? Is he a member of the Chinese Communist Party? On and on it went.

Chew did announce that his company will be spending US$2 billion on trust and safety measures this year.

These companies are about making money, that is their imperative. They have no obligation to take care with what is placed on their platforms. After all, they say they are the ultimate champions of free speech. They are reflective of where we are today. Are they the arbiters of our own demise? We shall see. Too much of anything is always problematic.

Society itself is reluctant to censure social media. It will take a momentous incident for the way these companies operate to be reevaluated. They are now among some of the biggest corporations in the world and we now live in the social media era. The genie is out of the bottle.

The Senators blame the social media companies for harm done to children and teenagers but they should be asking questions of parents and seeing to it that online safety is taught.

We will be back at another Senator Hearing by summer and again we will ask ourselves the question, What was that all about?

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