In the last few weeks, whistleblowers have exposed social media platforms as an empire of social decay.
First, the testimony of Frances Haugen presented before the U.S. Congress reverberated throughout households across the globe, leading them to question whether Instagram and Facebook were putting profits before people.
Second, a series of stories referred to as “Facebook Files” have brought to light the mental and physical health impacts of social media – specifically on children – and the company’s denial of its dependence on ‘filth’ for engagement and advertising revenue.
Finally, the Australian government drafted sweeping legislation to increase digital accountability and regulate the “coward’s palace” of unregulated social media. Changes like this are a good sign, but we don’t have to sit idly and wait for legislation. Even with the progression we see today, it will take many years before new laws and regulations are fully implemented. We can make change within traditional social media practices can today, by choice.
The evolution of storytelling on social media has competed, and in many ways integrated, with traditional journalism. But there is a key difference between traditional journalism and social media platforms; despite the perceived biases, traditional journalism across the world applies mechanisms for moderation and accountability.
Today’s social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have but a modicum of moderation, and absolutely no accountability. It wasn’t designed that way, of course. The architects of social media designed their platforms with moderation at the core. Through its ubiquitous accessibility and Olympic ping pong speed, social media subjects prime ministers, premiers, and even presidents of the United States to constant critique and feedback.
The problem is that social media platforms – as currently structured – reward dis- and misinformation. Polemic begets profit, and thus, social media has become the playground for “throwing #&%* till it sticks,” with a generation of young people, often women, bearing the brunt of this unregulated war zone.
Algorithms amplify misinformation because it pays. By tapping into our all-too-human confirmation biases, it leads to more engagement which leads to more advertising revenue.
A few years ago, a group of frustrated journalists took a leap into the tech-wilderness and created Pixstory, a fundamentally reformulated social media platform which launched in the United States mid-year. Pixstory is a grand yet simple social experiment: a platform which holds its participants accountable to facts and decency in conversation, and ambitiously, a place where integrity is valued.
Pixstory’s platform fosters healthy debate. Users can create stories in response to another user’s post that either supports the original post or offers a counterpoint using facts. Every user-generated post can be supported or challenged. However, when a post triggers a certain number of challenges, our app’s moderators move in to check for verifiable facts. If a story carries verifiable misinformation, we remove it.
Progressively, Pixstory is attracting journalists, government and elected representatives, professional athletes, cultural figures who often bear the brunt of trolling, and academics.
Pixstory’s algorithm rewards and recognizes truthful content. Equally, it flags non-truth and calls out hate and manipulation. Our community of contributors hold each other accountable by actively flagging content that is not credible. Pixstory’s army of moderators then review the flagged content for its accuracy and integrity.
Where there is doubt about whether a post contains misinformation, we have a process of community and expert review. Pixstory rewards users with higher integrity scores who demonstrate domain expertise by adding a Topic Expert badge on their profile, creating an informal transparent peer review system.
Artificial intelligence scans through user-uploaded photos, pictures and text to identify and eliminate both hate speech and explicit content. This is an important way that Pixstory differs from other social media platforms that deliberately take a lax approach to explicit content because it attracts “clicks.”
An integrity score drives visibility. Every time a user spreads misinformation or a hateful post, their integrity score lowers, affecting their visibility on the platform. It’s the same as the algorithms in existing social media, just in reverse. When a user falls below a certain integrity threshold, Pixstory removes them from the platform. In contrast, factual posts help to increase users’ integrity score and visibility.
Equity sits at the heart of Pixstory, which aims to offer recognition for the millions of people who have tremendous knowledge and expertise but are typically shut out of elite spaces of influence, access to media and public recognition. All of which contribute to social, cultural, class and economic divisions.
Since its launch, Pixstory has gained over 100,000 users from 110 countries and received endorsements from the sports community world-wide, leading its uptake – particularly women athletes, who have had enough of the toxic models of the traditional platforms.
It’s time we think differently about social media, and vote with our feet by walking away from platforms that profit from our misery. There is an alternative to the “cowards’ palace,” but as a society, we must choose to dethrone its emperor.
Guest articles reflect the opinions of the bylined authors and not necessarily those of TriplePundit’s editors and writers.
Image credit: George Pagan III via Unsplash
Appu Esthose Suresh is the founder of Pixstory and investigative journalist who covered the changing pattern of communal roots in India. Appu was recognized by the Mumbai Press Club's 2015 RedInk Awards in the “Journalist of the Year” category for his series on the “Communal Cauldron in Uttar Pradesh.”
Dwight Howard – a Pixstory brand ambassador – is an NBA champion, eight-time All-Star player, eight-time All-NBA Team honoree, five-time All-Defensive Team member, and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
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