July in digital: social channels and their quest for good
The negative effects of social media have been well documented. Some of the hot topics include how picture perfect feeds are damaging our mental health, communicating via likes and shares are harming our IRL relationships, while algorithms are creating filter bubbles which pose a threat to democracy.
The cons are hard to deny. But there are also plenty of benefits to consider – worldwide connectivity and real-time information sharing, for starters. Which is why social media giants are fighting back. This month, we highlight how platforms are working to reclaim their space – a space where users feel safe, mindful and positive about their social media experience.
Instagram hopes to deter ‘over-gramming’
At the start of July, Instagram officially rolled out its ‘You’re All Caught Up’ feature. This told users exactly that: that they had seen all the new posts from the last two days. It’s a move that’s been welcomed by users who found it hard to keep track of fresh content in algorithm-based feeds (rather than chronological timelines).
The update is one of the app’s first publicly tested features that’s designed with the new company outlook in mind – for the user experience to be more ‘positive and intentional’. It’s also part of a wider movement called ‘time well spent’. Based around social media platforms, it hopes to help users better track their time and promote wellness.
YouTube helps creators flag stolen videos
YouTube made a big step towards solving a longtime problem for its creators. Called ‘Copyright Match’, the new tool automatically scans every newly uploaded video to check if it’s a re-upload of something already on the site. When the tool finds a match, the original uploader can decide what to do: be flattered and let the re-uploader keep it, or take it right down themselves.
However, the tool isn’t perfect. It only works for users who are members of YouTube’s partner program, meaning new or small channels won’t benefit. Added to that, Copyright Match only works for full re-uploads, rather than clips or partial videos. The fight for intellectual property rights continues.
Twitter introduces new API restrictions to stop abuse
There are plenty of positive examples of automated Twitter accounts. Bots that create emoji aquariums, thinkpiece ideas and jargon-laden ‘insights’ are a key part of the Twitter experience. However, there are also plenty of apps which use Twitter’s API to churn out endless reams of spammy tweets, or carry out false information campaigns.
Now, Twitter is hoping to cut down on the issue by introducing a more rigorous vetting process. Anyone seeking to access Twitter’s APIs will need to apply (and be approved) for a developer account. Third-party apps will also be limited in how often they can post, like, retweet and DM users.
WhatsApp will now label forwarded messages
According to a report by the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University, messaging platforms have hosted misinformation campaigns in at least ten countries this year. WhatsApp is the main platform for seven of these countries, including India, Brazil, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Mexico.
The Facebook-owned messaging platform is very aware of this problem. They’ve offered researchers as much as $50,000 in grants to curb the problem. They’re also taking steps themselves. As of this month, users will be able to clearly tell when a message has been forwarded from one user to another. It’ll apply to text, images, videos and audio messages, and help receivers know when a message was (or wasn’t) created by the sender.
Instagram trials ‘Remove followers’ features
Private Instagram accounts have always had the option to remove followers. But it’s somewhat of a compromise – why shut off the world for the sake of avoiding a few unsavoury users? Fortunately, Instagram is testing a new feature that solves this problem. With the ability to remove followers, users can have greater control over who interacts with their account. It remains an experiment for a select number of users on Android so far, but it suggests the company is actively thinking of its users’ privacy and is taking steps to help protect it.