Amy Kean: Do we need a license to use social media?

Amy Kean, NDA’s monthly columnist, is Head of Strategic Innovation, Global Clients for Starcom and author of  The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks.

Total transparency: I’m writing this because a Trump supporter called me ‘nasty’ on Twitter. It was unprovoked, of course, and nasty in the ‘nasty woman’ sense. You know: unwomanly. Unruly. EVIL. Oh, the irony.

It’s not the only abuse I’ve received. I get a moderate amount because of the nature of my literary side hustle, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. And I’m not even in the public eye: female activists and politicians like Diane Abbott get death and rape threats daily, within a tsunami of social hatred so intense that even social platforms struggle to police it. 

But that’s just civilisation, right? Psychopaths and their less unhinged followers will forever find reasons to hunt, abuse, and torment. Even better now you can hide behind an avatar image of the American Flag wrapped around a hawk on fire (true story: real avatar).

And yes, while this is something we must accept, no one realised quite how much damage the human race could do via the internet.

It’s life-affirming to believe most of us are well-intentioned, but humans are problematic beasts. We literally invented war.  Ergo, I’ve come to the unfortunate realisation that humans are not to be trusted with something as dangerous as social media.

And – just as one requires a license to bear arms – I believe one must acquire a license before being allowed anywhere near a social platform.

Too Big Brother?

I’m one of those people who’s never read 1984 but will happily reference Big Brother. Doesn’t that sound a bit ‘Big Brother’, you ask? Not at all! It’s an acknowledgment that social media is more powerful than all of us (apart from David Bowie) predicted, and the major organisational players within it have shown themselves to be too slow to right the wrongs.

Let’s take the last couple of months during General Election time.

Bewildering misrepresentation of data by political parties. Doctored videos and deep fakes. The international spreading of lies using the BBC’s ‘breaking news’ icon as bait. Not to mention the ongoing gullibility of young people to influencer ads promoting detox tea and appetite suppressant gummy bears.

People need to be trained not only in the responsible use of social technologies, but also how to be on the receiving end of them, too. For all our safety.

So what would obtaining your social media license entail? Well there’d be basic usage training of course, so that your nan stops sharing racist memes.

Some education into how to listen to different opinions. An anger management course. How to tell a joke. And a 101 in how to use and spot Photoshop.

Perhaps as part of the training process we could focus on mental health: teaching people how not to compare themselves to the perfectly-curated lives of people they don’t know. Perhaps we could even dissolve young people’s ambitions of being an ‘influencer’.

Obtaining the certificate wouldn’t take long: about six weeks with an exam at the end. Who would regulate it?  Who knows – it’s up for a debate.

A matter of life and death

You need a license to drive a car, because being able to drive a car well is a matter of life and death.

Is social media a matter of life and death? Yes, sometimes it is. Cyberbullying, and the hate that spreads and incites violence and otherism is probably as bad society can get.  

We can’t wait for the platforms to clean up all this mess, because despite Instagram hiding likes which is such a positive decision, this is all taking too long and the immediate future is a concern.

Because if we don’t learn how to interact and get along, the web will become nothing than a series of impenetrable filter bubbles, self-perpetuating echo chambers, Donald Trump wannabes and nasty names.

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