knock-knock, who’s there?

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It’ll come as no great surprise that social media is roundly criticised for creating division, promoting anger, propagating hatred, allowing the proliferation of the extreme and contrarian view, and disseminating the lie of fake news, whilst failing to protect the young and vulnerable. It is argued the corrosive power of modern digital platforms potentially threatens the society they claim to unite. There is little doubt the likes of Facebook, Google, Twitter et al could do more to avoid these criticisms but whilst their numbers continue to climb (value, revenue and users) there appears precious little need for them to change much and lip-service will remain the order of the day. So how can society reduce the levels of abuse and disinformation that gets pushed at us daily?

A pal of mine might have an answer. A bigwig within the banking & finance world, he has an interesting and novel approach to LinkedIn in that he adds to his network only individuals that he has both met and that he has either successfully undertaken business with or knows personally. Consequently, though his overall network appears relatively modest, he can vouch for every single one of his contacts in both a private or professional capacity. Consequently, it is network gold and I’m doing my damndest to get into it! This approach he terms as his version of KYC: Know Your Customer. Imagine if we all adopted such an approach to our social networks, in that we only connected and communicated with people we actually knew and had done business with; that we removed the anonymity, the real-life cloak of invisibility, of the internet.

A ‘tin-ear’ perhaps but tech companies have already taken baby-steps in this direction. Both Facebook and Twitter award a ‘Blue Peter’ style of badge to accounts they regard as verified, but, with up to 15% of all accounts being fake, it plainly isn’t enough. When you sign-up for a bank account, or a car loan or even the most basic of news subscription you need to verify your identify in a much more detailed, substantive and concrete manner, and the same rigour could be applied to the enabling of a social media account. Anonymity flatters the behemoths’ figures but, in the long-term, a higher level of honesty and accuracy could only bolster their ‘big data’ quest.

Furthermore, we need to personally adopt practices which build upon this: we could read only emails and engage socially with those we know and/or trust, that is with similarly authenticated and verified accounts and sources. Anonymous messages, spuriously named accounts and dubious news sources need to be treated with the suspicion and disrespect they deserve and be consigned to the bin. And yes, so why exactly are you reading this!