Have You Tried Turning It Off and On Again?
BY GEORGE CAREY-SIMOS
CO-FOUNDER & COO, WE ARE SOCIAL MEDIA
The last eight months have brought considerable changes to every aspect of our lives, and particularly to how we learn, collaborate, work, and communicate. As we shelter in place, we’ve been forced to replace physical contact with virtual activities, and it’s become clear that the Internet has played a pivotal role in bringing us together while we’re kept apart.
In this sense, it has been a source of positive change and an important tool to help us cope with the sudden loss of our social lives. If it wasn’t already, the Internet has now become an indispensable part of our lives. For millions, it offers the only way to connect with loved ones or interact with the rest of the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how dependent we are on the Internet and tools like social platforms. Furthermore, the ensuing “slowdown” has brought to light many systems that are clearly “broken.”
That’s because the Internet isn’t just a tool for good. It’s also a breeding ground for hate, extremism, a vector for the spread of misinformation, a source of much polarization; threatening the egalitarian idea envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee, of a free internet that allows us to easily share information and collaborate with each other.
Ironically, it is this unfettered access to information and easy collaboration that is causing trouble, and in many cases even undermining our democracy.
The role that social platforms play in creating and extending these conditions has become blatantly apparent during the last few years. Despite efforts to apply stricter policies and controls; and build systems to counter them, there is an ever-present threat that makes it impossible to let down our guard. The size (and extent) of the problem is, unfortunately, still very much unknown.
As I reflect on the last few months and look at how the rot at the Internet’s very core has spread even further, I have questions.
How can social platforms stop being such a divisive force? How much more can we tighten the grip with stricter and stricter policies? Who calls the shots? More importantly, where’s the reset button we so urgently need?
Perhaps we can get some comfort knowing that Tim Berners-Lee imagined things differently as well – and be positive that the future will bring better things. Of course, things won’t get better on their own, so we need action on many fronts.
The only thing you and I can do right now is to do our part every day – making the Internet a better, more human place.
George is the co-founder & COO of wersm.com – We are Social Media. He is an experienced digital strategist, consultant, with over 15 years of experience in marketing communications and related roles, digital consulting, events production, and journalism. He is also a startup mentor and advisor, and a frequent speaker at industry events.
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