Social media: Molly Russell deserved better…

Executives, leaders, and managers make decisions all the time, normally based on facts, rational analysis of trends and risks, input from trusted advisers, and, of course, the specific objectives and incentives they have been given by their organisation. In rational people these factors dominate the decision-making process, and so any niggling contrarian gut instinct is easily smothered. It’s therefore not very common for decisions to be taken on gut instinct alone. However, the Badger learned from dealing with troublesome situations over the years that gut instinct, or any feeling of unease, should never be suppressed. Why? Because it was common for those in trouble to admit privately that they should have listened to their instincts more before taking a decision that ultimately proved flawed and the root cause of their problems.

There are many times in life when gut instinct tells us that something isn’t right, is too good to be true, or that some attractive short-term path forward has longer term, unpredictable, downsides that are difficult to pin down. It’s this instinct that something isn’t right with social media platforms that has made the Badger limit his use of them in recent years. The testimony of Meta whistle-blower Frances Haugen in October 2021, news that TikTok might face fines for failing to protect children’s privacy, and the testimonies of Pinterest and Meta executives at the inquest into the tragic death of Molly Russell (see here, for example), imply that the Badger’s instincts are sound.       

Social media is a key component of the modern digital world, especially for younger generations who have never experienced life without it. It isn’t going away. However, Frances Haugen’s testimony and advocation for transparency and social media accountability, and what’s emerging during the inquest into Molly Russell’s death, seem to highlight two things. Firstly, that unelected executives at the top of social media companies have become the people who determine what is right or wrong for people to see. Gut instinct says that isn’t right! Secondly, these companies are businesses that put profit before anything else. Whereas good businesses do what’s good for the company and their users, social media companies concentrate on the former and are disdainful of anything that attempts to redress the balance. Gut instinct again suggests that isn’t right!

Tougher regulation must change this situation. Arguments against this on the grounds that it would limit our free speech are spurious and must be resisted because free speech has existed in democracies for way longer than social media has existed. Finally, here’s a shout-out for Ian Russell, Molly’s father. He has become a prominent internet safety campaigner since his daughter’s death, and he has determinedly asked questions about social media platform’s accountability regarding toxic, harmful content. The Badger’s gut instinct is that it would be fitting and right if the outcome of Molly’s inquest creates another headache for Mr Zuckerberg and other information overlords.   

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