Every second, 6,000 tweets become part of the social media world that has made itself a hallmark of the digital age. For some, their 280 characters are never seen by more than a handful of people in the world; others have platforms so influential that their posts dictate social, economic and political narratives for millions.
The power of social media apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is undeniable. Many rely solely on the sites for their news and understanding the world around them.
When Facebook underwent national scrutiny for its political involvement with Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential election, lobbyists and advocates argued that social media giants hold too much data, power and influence to delegate what people see and do not see on their websites.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, revealed his company’s intention to ban all political advertising during the election cycles.
Mark Kim, assistant professor of computing, software and data sciences, said the recent rise in social media’s interconnectedness has resulted in a substantial increase in the sites’ political polarization.
This problem arises when companies attempt to decide what is appropriate and can be censored without human input. Much of what appears on sites like Twitter goes through filters that can catch or flag potentially harmful content.
“What a developer may think to be an unbiased filtration algorithm may actually cause more harm than good, and it can cause concern when we think about who ultimately makes these decisions,” Kim said.
Landon Cole Dacus, freshman film major, said he supports the move but understands the potentially dangerous implications. “I don’t think social media companies should be the arbiters of political advertising, especially when they’re at risk of their own bias,” Dacus said.
The incentive to ban a large swath of advertising revenue is nearly nonexistent, but the move is a calculated one aimed more at improving public perceptions rather than adding more to corporate profits.
With a platform as large as Twitter, the ways political ads would be filtered out of its platform is not particularly clear. It is virtually impossible to create a program that approves and denies content perfectly.
Matthew Niculae, sophomore computer science major, said artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly significant role in the decision process.
“(But) it can’t catch everything, so having a human factor is critical to eliminating bias,” Niculae said.
Social media companies have a long way to go in filtering content, and with the number of users only growing, the right way to determine what belongs on their platforms only becomes more challenging and more controversial.