Unfriendly Internet Intersects with Meta’s ‘Friendly’ Discussions

Mark Zuckerberg has introduced Threads, Meta’s innovative Twitter rival, as a safe haven for civil online discussions. This sets it apart from the more contentious Twitter, which is owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

“Our main focus is on creating a friendly and kind environment,” stated Meta CEO Zuckerberg after the app’s launch.

However, preserving this idealistic vision for Threads, which gained over 70 million users within its first two days, poses a challenge.

While Meta Platforms is experienced in managing the chaos of the internet, including offensive and explicit content, it aims to enforce the same rules applied on its photo and video-sharing platform, Instagram, for Threads users.

In order to exert more control over the content and prioritize entertainment over news, Meta has adopted an algorithmic approach. Nonetheless, by integrating Threads with other social media services such as Mastodon, Meta invites new challenges and seeks to forge a unique path.

Interestingly, Meta will not implement its existing fact-checking program for Threads, according to spokesperson Christine Pai. This diverges from Meta’s strategy in combating misinformation on its other apps.

Pai did clarify that if a post on Facebook or Instagram has been rated as false by fact-checking partners, the label will also appear if the same post is shared on Threads.

When questioned about the discrepancy, Meta declined to respond.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, admitted in a New York Times podcast that Threads is more aligned with supporting public discourse compared to Meta’s other services, which are more inclined towards news. Nevertheless, the company aims to focus on lighter subjects like sports, music, fashion, and design through Threads.

Yet, Meta’s ability to distance itself from controversy was immediately challenged.

Within hours of its launch, Threads accounts were found discussing topics such as the Illuminati and “billionaire satanists.” Users also engaged in heated debates about various subjects, ranging from gender identity to violence in the West Bank.

Conservative figures, including Donald Trump’s son, expressed frustration over perceived censorship when warning labels were applied to their posts for containing false information. A Meta spokesperson dismissed the labels as an error.

Further challenges in content moderation await Meta once Threads is linked to the “fediverse,” allowing users from non-Meta servers to communicate with Threads users. Meta has stated that Instagram’s rules will apply to these users as well.

However, researchers specializing in online media believe the devil lies in the details of how Meta handles these interactions.

Alex Stamos, the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former head of security at Meta, highlighted the greater enforcement challenges that Meta will face without access to the back-end data of users who share prohibited content.

Stamos expressed that limiting the visibility of fediverse servers with numerous abusive accounts and imposing harsher penalties for illegal materials like child pornography will likely be Meta’s approach.

Nonetheless, the very nature of these interactions creates complications.

“Once you start encountering illegal materials, such as child exploitation or nonconsensual sexual imagery while indexing content, do you have a responsibility beyond merely blocking it from Threads?” questioned Solomon Messing from the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University.

© Thomson Reuters 2023


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