Headlines emerging from Silicon Valley this year have been followed by their own ricochets, with substantial impacts on the companies concerned. Culture clashes as Elon Musk navigated his deal to purchase Twitter, and the most significant round of job cuts in Meta’s history (around 13% of the workforce) have prompted both social media giants to chase new revenue streams. So where are the most noticeable pressure points for 2023 as tech business models begin to shift?
Brand impersonation’s latest foray
Twitter’s infamous new owner Elon Musk kickstarted a new direction for the platform with the cack-handed release of Twitter Blue, a feature that has encouraged a torrent of sometimes humorous, but mostly troubling, brand impersonations. In a notable example, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly’s stock tumbled more than 5% after an impostor account that had paid for a blue ‘verified’ tick tweeted that the company would be providing free insulin to its customers. The viral tweet wiped $15bn off the stock valuation.
Managing the impact of these corporate reputational and financial risks is only one piece in the puzzle for companies and individuals seeking to protect their reputation on Twitter. Another is set to be free-speech absolutism. Both will bring new challenges to what is already a strained online moderation mechanism, increasing the risk of online misinformation and disinformation, and leaving high-profile individuals and corporate entities more vulnerable.
Mastodon and effective content moderation
Content regulation is a thorn in the side of social media. With the issue of scale widely believed to be the largest factor affecting the ability to properly regulate content on centralised social media sites, a growing number of decentralised, alternative social media sites are emerging in response. The most recognisable names of these are Truth Social and Parler, both of which are accused of being melting pots of alt-right speech and unverified information.
However, there are a growing number of communities in the fediverse, a decentralised network of purposely small social networks that work together to regulate and ultimately cut off those who violate terms of service. The most prominent of these is Mastodon, a microblogging service that most resembles Twitter in the centralised word of social media. These communities are restricted to as little as 6,000 users, enabling the platforms to enforce policies that would not otherwise be possible.
Gab is an encouraging example of the future of alternative social networks; it was defederated by its network for growing a userbase that acted and spoke unethically, and isolated from contact with the wider community. Ultimately, it has ended up as a form of the very centralised platform it wanted to avoid becoming.
Responding to the enduring appeal of video
Facebook introduced its ‘like’ button years ago to capitalise on the dopamine hit of online validation. Now, TikTok’s popularity is proving that vanity’s newest frontier is video, with monthly user figures for the platform in the billions. In an effort to keep up, Meta has announced that by the end of 2023 it will have doubled its current figure of 15% for pushing content from the accounts of people you don’t follow, and much of this will likely be video content.
The move has seemingly been influenced by a desire to appeal to the millennial market – a quarter of whom regularly get their news from TikTok clips, according to a recent Pew Research Centre survey. But it’s likely to increase the spread of certain targeted narratives, authentic or otherwise. Whatever the motivation, it’s an intriguing move for a company that has already been accused of enabling the spread of mis- and disinformation.
Privacy issues surrounding video
Social media is largely a matter of data, and therefore of privacy (or lack thereof). Video is just one example of the data density which is as profitable as it is problematic. So, how is our interaction data feeding into the economy?
According to Omida, video is the fastest-growing area in online advertising, due in part to advertisers’ ability to use the customer-profiling capabilities of the so-called ‘walled gardens’ of data of the likes of Meta. The flywheel effect of this is that some of the largest retailers in the world are becoming media companies in many ways, with huge investments in video production.
A wider question is whether data governance will get the overhaul it needs on social media platforms. This year, the EU approved a new Digital Services Act, forbidding profiling based on sensitive data. The new flurry of consumer-centric privacy laws in Europe, though encouraging, is juxtaposed by the closure of Twitter’s Brussels office, prompting further fears over online safety.
Meta has taken video production a step further. In a blog post, it describes how its new AI system “learns what the world looks like from paired text-image data”. To do this, Meta’s Make-A-Video product will utilise publicly available datasets. This begs the wider question: how in control are you of your own online image?
As social media continues to evolve, issues of content moderation, brand impersonation and privacy look set to become ever more complex. For advertisers and social media companies, there is a need to ensure genuine, engaging and relevant content reaches their users – advertisers want to gain value from their advertising spend, and social media owners need to ensure their userbase doesn’t desert them. For individuals and companies looking to protect their reputation online, the issues of brand impersonation and data privacy remain at the fore, as technology advances and new ways emerge of capturing and using the vast amount of information we share online every day.