I’ve written a few times in recent days about the massive misinformation machine that is social media. One of our advisors sent along an article about a response, a young social network called Telepath. It’s an interesting effort to try to solve our social media crisis. That said, I’m not confident it can get the job done.
Let’s start with the good news, including one of my favorite features. Telepath involves true human moderation — close moderation. That requires a lot of people, a lot of time, and a lot of money, but it’s the way it should be done. Years ago, Joe Romm, my unofficial blogging mentor, explained superbly on Climate Progress why news sites needed to either have close moderation of the comments or no comments at all. We were already going that route here on CleanTechnica, but it was a strong and convincing push to make sure our comments section remained free of spam, free of trolls, useful, fun, interesting, and not just an avenue for nefarious forces to spread disinformation. Unfortunately, many major websites have ignored this need and you can find many a cesspool of misinformation and trolling underneath popular websites, but it is nowhere a problem like it is on social media.
Ill-intentioned actors like Russia realized social media programs would be a great, easy, cheap way to cause an enormous amount of damage to enemies while propagating agendas they wanted more people to adopt. This disinformation as well as the stimulated strife and fighting is running rampant on Facebook, Twitter, and beyond. With careful moderation, this kind of thing can be thwarted (within the boundaries of that site/community). It just takes a lot of resources and, thus, a commitment to slower, less profitable growth.
The note inside of the parentheses above is the big problem. Even if Telepath takes off and a lot of people spend time there, people who don’t want to be moderated so closely and want to be able to spread whatever nonsense they see that stimulates them, without someone correcting and “censoring” them all the time, won’t use the network. The problem with Facebook and some other places right now is just how freely people can share or say what they want. Even so, with very moderate flagging of issues and censorship, Trump supporters have decided that Facebook and Twitter are oppressing their freedom, are bailing, and are flocking to Parler — and trying to take as many people as possible with them.
So, overall, I could see sensible people who care about the facts going to Telepath, but then I think it’d just be a bubble for “people like us,” while the people more prone to conspiracy theories will play elsewhere, misinforming themselves and others through rampant fake news.
Notably, Telepath is supposed to be banning hate speech (haters ain’t gonna like that, so won’t use it), multiple accounts (aka fake accounts), identity-based attacks, and fake news (real fake news, not CNN & MSNBC).
So, yeah, that sounds great to a libtard like me, but it probably looks like hell to a Trumpie.
“To enforce its rules, Telepath begins by requiring users to sign up with a mobile phone number, which is verified as a ‘real’ number associated with a SIM card, and not a virtual one — like the kind you could grab through a ‘burner’ app,” TechCrunch reports.
“In order to the create its ‘kind environment,’ Telepath says it will sacrifice growth and hire moderators who work in-house as long-term, trusted employees.
“’All the major social networks essentially grew in an unbounded way,’ explains [Richard Henry, Telepath CEO and former Quora Product Lead]. ‘They had 100 million-plus active users, then were like, “okay, now how do we moderate this enormous thing?”,’ he continues. ‘We’re in a lucky position because we get to moderate from day one. We get to set the norms.'”
The platform sounds great … if there wasn’t already Facebook, reddit, Twitter, etc. When a big part of the social media crisis is that people are being funneled into their own ideological bubbles, creating a better bubble for a certain (quite specific) portion of the population doesn’t solve the overall bubble problem.
Millions of people have been swarming to Parler because they can say whatever they want there — even stuff that can get you placed on an FBI list or two. Will even 100 of those people want to join a network where they are heavily moderated? I think not.
That said, what it does do is that it probably creates a better place for many people to converse and learn about what others are doing online. And, well, that may be the core aim.
“When talking about Telepath, it’s clear the founders are nostalgic for the early days of the web — before all the people joined, that is. In smaller, online communities in years past, people connected and made internet friends who would become real-world friends. That’s a moment in time they hope to recapture,” TechCrunch reports.
Getting back to its specifics, though, let’s explore the features. Interestingly, after 30 days, your messages disappear. I love this. I think too much is recorded and stashed away in this world. “No one will get to dig through your misinformed posts from a decade ago to shame you in the present, it seems.” Good point.
Additionally, Telepath doesn’t want a single post on the network to go viral without first being reviewed by real humans. That may sound like a horror, but it’s simply a great way to make sure that anything being pushed widely is first being reviewed by a thoughtful, considerate human.
As much as I love the plans for Telepath, I don’t see it having a positive effect on the overall social media crisis, and it could even have a negative effect. If progressives and liberals stroll over to Telepath and ditch Facebook, for example, but right-wing groups think it’s ridiculous and stay on Facebook or transition to a more “open” network, then our bubbles will be even further separated, and the inability to even see or try to understand the others will be even stronger.