As a Social Media Manager, it feels incongruous to say that social networks (SNS) aren’t really nice a place to be lately. Of course, there are wonderful corners where you can find like-minded, supportive and entertaining people and accounts. But tensions are high in the “real world” and this is bubbling over online. We’re reaching boiling point.

Events within the last 12 months (and beyond) suggest to me that we’re heading for a change in the world of online sharing and social media regulation. Let’s take a look at some key events and please share your thoughts in the comments- this is a huge topic of discussion that’s building momentum every day, and I’d love to hear what you think.

Donald Trump Banned By Social Media Giants

Pro-Trump supporters storming the Capitol building in Washington on January 6 2021. Trump was then banned from multiple social media networks. (Photo by Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building on January 6 2021. (Photo by Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images)

 

In an unbelievable turn of events on 6th January 2021, then-President Trump told a crowd of supporters “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” urging them to head to the Capitol in Washington. They stormed the Capitol building and five people died and more than 140 were injured.

That day, Facebook and Twitter both announced a 24-hour ban for Trump, which was then extended. Twitter then announced that he would be permanently banned for using the platform “to incite violence, among other things.” Within days, Donald Trump was banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Shopify, Twitch and Youtube. Other platforms, which Trump was not present on, banned related content:

• TikTok banned #StormTheCapitol #StopTheSteal and other related hashtags
• Pinterest banned pro-Trump hashtags
• Discord & Reddit banned any pro-Trump forums
• Stripe blocked payments for his campaign, making him unable to fundraise online
• Parler was removed from Play Store and App Store, and Amazon.com Inc ended web-hosting services, bringing the platform offline.

Parler: The Network That Nobody Wants

Parler launched in August 2018 and positioned itself as a free-speech-focused and unbiased alternative to other SNS. Its audience is (was?) made up of a significantly pro-Trump, conservative, conspiracy theorist, right-wing user base. Allegedly, the storming of the Capitol was coordinated on Parler.

Google and Apple both removed Parler from their respective Stores due to a lack of policing on the app. Amazon Web Services, which the entire platform was hosted on, then abruptly and permanently ended web-hosting services on 11th January, bringing it completely offline. After a month of complete blackout, Parler relaunched its new platform that’s built on “sustainable, independent technology”. Sounds promising, right? Only, there have been teething problems…

Firstly, the app wasn’t immediately available for all users, and existing users reported their posts from the previous version had vanished from their profiles. Plus, while those who already had the app downloaded can log in, installing it onto phones that didn’t have it before is proving challenging: Android users must source the software and install it without using Google’s Play Store, and iPhone users trying to reinstall or download it for the first time from Apple’s App Store are told it’s “not currently available”.

Parler may have only been offline for 1 month but that’s a long time, especially in the world of social media. A lot has happened. Many users have moved to Telegram, Gab, MeWe and other platforms too, and don’t show signs of wanting to come back for a few reasons:

1. Co-founder and CEO, John Matze, was fired by the board earlier this month after he was reportedly considering some form of algorithmic content moderation in a bid to get Parler back in app stores again. Totally going against its stance as a free-speech alternative platform, right?

2. Parler reportedly offered the Trump Organisation 40% of the company if he posted exclusively to the platform. The deal fell apart after the storming of Capitol, but legal experts say the discussions alone raise legal concerns with regards to anti-bribery laws.

3. Parler also helped identify many of those who took part in storming the Capitol using videos shared on the platform from inside and around the Capitol building. Some of those videos were even used during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.


It’s hard to see how Parler will stick around. Without distribution through Apple and Google platforms, it will struggle to scale and because Parler doesn’t control its own servers, it doesn’t ultimately control its own future. 

If its users have found other platforms anyway, what is the point of Parler?

Australia vs Google & Facebook

In February 2021, the Australian Government passed the News Media Bargaining Code, a world-first law requiring tech companies like Google and Facebook to negotiate payment deals with news organisations for the content that appears in their news feeds and search results. All in a bid to address the media’s loss of advertising revenue to US tech firms, it’s safe to say the tech giants weren’t happy.

Google threatened to remove the search engine – used by as estimated 19 million Australians every month – from the country, and Facebook even blocked its 17 million Australian users from sharing or viewing news for a week. Yikes.

After negotiations, some amends have been made to the law but both Facebook and Google have agreed deals with local news outlets, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation being one of them. Rumour has it, other countries like the US are hoping to follow suit…

Australia’s Online Safety Act

Australia is also updating its already world-leading Online Safety Act. Established back in 2015 it saw the induction of their first eSafety Commissioner – the first role of its kind anywhere in the World.

Now, they’re updating these online safety laws to give the eSafety Commissioner more power in promoting and administering online safety. Proposed changes include:

Extending the Online Cyberbullying Scheme
• Extending the Cyber Abuse Scheme to Include Adults 
   Trolls could reportedly face fines of up to $111,000 and SNS will be required to removed offensive material within 24 hours and provide the identity of the poster. (Incredible. Petition to bring this to the UK, please!!)
Clearer Online Safety Expectations for Social Networks
Redefining What Qualifies as Harmful Content
• Enhancing the eSafety Commissioner’s Powers for Content Blocking and Removal Requirements

#bekind: Caroline Flack

Caroline Flack at JW Marriott Grosvenor House London on April 30, 2019 in London, England. The presenter's death by suicide prompted the #bekind movement and calls for social media regulation against trolling.(Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 30: Caroline Flack at JW Marriott Grosvenor House London on April 30, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)


In February 2020, Caroline Flack died by suicide. One of her last Instagram posts shows the quote “in a world where you can be anything, be kind” which inspired the use of #bekind in tributes shared online once news broke.

In the weeks following her death, it felt like there was potential for real change. Petitions for Caroline’s Law were shared across social media and influencers began sharing screenshots of their own DMs from trolls, publicly naming and shaming them. Everyone seemed to be firmly against the media and their clickbait headlines shared across social media too. But one year on, I personally feel like toxicity online is reaching even headier heights.

No doubt, being locked inside for months on end with so much death and negative news flying around is having a detrimental effect on everyone’s mental health, mood and wellbeing, and one of the only ways to communicate with other people right now is via social media. But an increasing number of people seem to be using this as an opportunity to bring others down; to troll. One step forward, two steps back.

The UK feels a far cry away from the revolutionary regulations being defined in Australia…

Rashford & Racism

More recently, British footballer and child food poverty activist, Marcus Rashford, tweeted that he had experienced “humanity and social media at its worst” after receiving racist abuse on Instagram.

On Match of the Day, former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright demanded more action from the authorities and social media companies: “There are ways of being able to catch people. They’re not vigilant enough, nowhere near. It should be something they’re doing hand in hand [authorities and social media sites]. But how much do they care deep down?”

Similarly, BBC journalist and newsreader Dan Walker tweeted his thoughts, only to be trolled 6 hours later. The circle of online abuse is never-ending, it seems.

 Social Media Regulation Predictions

Law judgment hammer and social network logos (Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest) symbolising social media regulation predictions.

Bruce Daisley, former VP at Twitter, recently spoke on Steven Bartlett’s The Diary of a CEO podcast (I recommend giving it a listen) and shared his predictions on social media regulation and laws we could see in the next few years. My two main predictions for social media regulations are:

1. Facebook and Google will be broken up.

Contextually, Google is the most visited website globally1 and owns Youtube, Tenor and FitBit among others, while Facebook is the most used social network with over 2.7 billion active users2 and has acquired the likes of Instagram, Whatsapp, Giphy and many more. 

In fact, over 35% of the total time spent on the internet in the UK is spent on websites owned by either Google or Facebook3.

A 2020 report found that Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple all monopolise their respective fields; Google dominated search and search advertising with investigators saying “no alternative search engine serves as a substitute,” and Facebook’s “acquire, copy, or kill” strategy against competitors means the giant is unlikely to be superseded.

To disband any of these Big Tech companies would be seismic. They are the gatekeepers for much of the news and information we receive today and therefore our world view. They control what we purchase, what we know and even how we think, to a certain extent.

This makes the banning of Donald Trump – although I believe it was the right decision within the context of national and global security – somewhat unsettling. It opens up a precedent for the Tech Giants to control what we see to an even greater extent. Where do we draw the line with de-platforming people or public figures because we don’t agree with their opinions? Daisley sums it up perfectly: “For a private company to be saying ‘we take an opinion which transcends the election result’ is a really uncomfortable one.”

2. An independent authority will be setup for social media regulation

Daisley also says that an independent authority that defines and enforces safety regulations would likely be welcomed by the Big Tech companies with open arms. They would rather someone else tells them the rules, rather than having to dive into that rabbit hole themselves. Something like Australia’s Online Safety Act, maybe? Tackling cyberbullying, harassment, harmful content and regulation online definitely needs tackling on a global scale and I think Australia is leading the pack at the moment.

3. Online anonymity will become a thing of the past

Chat about this is building. Like Dan Walker said in his tweet above, needing to have photo identification to set up a social media account would remove the cloak of anonymity that so many hide behind. Trolls would no longer be able to hide. Even if they didn’t have a profile picture or an identifying username, the social networks would still be able to identify them. This seems only logical to me in a number of different scenarios; not just trolling, but online fraud too. There are a whole host of crimes that can be committed online and there’s still fairly low surveillance.

Now if some people can think the covid vaccinations are just a government ploy to put trackers into all of us (don’t get me started), I realise many will be against the idea of “handing over” photo ID details to set up a Twitter account. I mean, where do we draw the line with surveillance?

But to put it into context, London is one of the most heavily CCTV covered cities in the world4. We know our devices are listening to us. Almost every move is watched anyway. If verifying your identity will mean a reduction in online hate, harassment, abuse, fraud and bullying, I’m personally all for it. What are you worried about? Unless you’ve got something to hide..

Final Thoughts

Like Daisley, I think we’ll see more social media laws and regulations come into play to protect users on an individual, national and global scale. Humans have a fantastic ability to turn something toxic. There is no way we can continue on this downward trajectory of judgment, abuse, mental health crises and suicide, forever. I predict the regulations emerging in Australia, as well as roles like their eSafety Commissioner, will eventually become standard around the World. An independent authority like this would be fantastic, although potentially adding another headache for Social Media Managers.

I hope companies like Facebook and Google will be disbanded, but this is a much bigger battle. Much like how Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp monopolises the news and media industry and has the power to influence peoples’ voting decisions and sway election results, I think it’s fundamentally wrong for companies to dominate markets to such an extent that they own 4 of the top 5 most used social networks, for example (Facebook, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram)4. Our whole world is fast becoming one huge echo chamber controlled by the Big Tech giants. How dangerous and terrifying is that?!

As I said at the beginning, saying all of this as a Social Media Manager by trade is a contradiction I’m aware of. I play directly into the hands of the Tech Giants, playing their algorithm games, paying for ad space etc etc. That’s just the way the world and business works at the moment. But for the sake of the world population’s safety and sanity, I hope to see these changes start to come into action soon.

What do you think? What are your predictions? Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts 👇👇

Posted by:Amy Hughes

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