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Social media, politics and the disinformation age

Posted by Ross Jones on 1st November 2017

YouTube has announced that it is pressing ahead with plans to further alter its advertising algorithms.

The move is latest in a series of updates from the video sharing site, which earlier this year found its ads network under scrutiny following an investigation by The Times. The paper revealed that ads sponsored by the UK government and several private sector companies had appeared ahead of videos supporting terrorist groups.

While the company has been praised by advertisers — many of whom pulled the plug on spending after the revelations — the tech giant has come in for criticism from popular YouTubers and vloggers regarding the way it has handled the changes. The primary concern from its user base has been what criteria justify a video no longer getting ads.

The issue with online adverting is an important one, and got me thinking about how much user-generated, shareable content is now being hijacked and politicised. In the UK, following a spate of terrorist attacks this year, the government put internet firms under pressure to remove extremist content within hours of it being posted online. In the US, Congress is investigating Russia’s use of Facebook, Google and Twitter to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

We live in an age dominated by social media. Its reach is vast and pervasive. For many of us, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are part of our everyday lives. But for the large part, they remain unregulated. This year has highlighted that the platforms we use to exchange messages, organise social events and share general news about our lives can have a powerful impact on democracy. For better or, in some cases, for worse.

It’s a conversation, I feel, that will continue for some time. As social media users, it’s up to us to decide whether a monopoly of tech giants should be free to regulate the data they collect, without government interference. And can we trust these companies with that information, when their platforms are exploitable and possess the potential to help radicalise elements of society or shape the results of elections?

For a long time, tech companies have fought against stricter regulations when it comes to vetting content posted on their sites. But if this has taught us anything, it’s that online doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And while Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have made concessions to imposing stricter guidelines, there is still some way to go yet.

Ross Jones

A former freelance journalist, Ross knows how to create original written content and news angles that are both topical and thought provoking. Prior to joining Wildfire, Ross worked in B2B and corporate PR on a variety of international accounts in sectors including oil and gas, law, finance and logistics. He has a degree in Law and obtained his Masters in International Journalism from Cardiff University, in 2015. Ross is a keen traveller, having previously lived in China while working as a journalist. He is an avid reader, enjoys music (attending as many live gigs as possible) and is a committed Cardiff City fan.