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Encouraging Flexibility from Social Media Giants: How We Get Private Platforms to Support Public Speech

(originally posted on Civic MIT and PBS)

There are many problems with using commercial technology platforms to host democratic, social, or activist content and communications. These problems came up in multiple sessions at the National Conference on Media Reform last weekend. There are also obvious reasons to continue using these platforms (audience reach, most notably), and so we do. Some activist efforts that silo communications on more open, but relatively unknown platforms strike me as irresponsible, if the goal is to reach as many people as possible (but this is a fine line). The more I think about this issue, though, the more I see potential solutions and a future in working with the platform providers to build some degree of flexibility into their products and policies.

soapbox at #ncmr13
The spot on the carpet reserved for public ranting at #NCMR13

Social media giants do not have immediately obvious incentive to participate in such compromise. First of all, supporting individual humans doesn’t scale at anywhere near the order of magnitude they seek with their software. This model of customer support is perhaps best illustrated by Google, where serious and eminently solvable problems are routed through static FAQ pages, or, if you’re lucky, a forum page where a Google developer or superuser might stumble across your concern and provide some hint of illumination as to its origin or any hope of forthcoming resolution.

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