Why do we need change in social media?

Drew Benvie

My journey through social media began aged seven, in the 1980s, when my parents bought me my first computer. It was an Amstrad CPC 464, it was not connected to the internet, and playing a game required loading a cassette. Although I spent most of my time outside, playing sport or with friends on our bikes, I loved computer games too and for a few years pretty much all my pocket money was spent on the latest game to be released. On cassette.

The internet wasn’t a thing in the 80s for kids like me, but I did also teach myself to code, in a language called Basic. And my fascination with all things tech began.

Fast forward to the late 90s and I emerged in the world of work, fist in banking (I was awful at that. I lost £200 when working as a bank cashier, and was told off by a customer when working on an investments help line) then I moved into media, which suited me way better.

While my job was focused on one thing, my mind was on another: how could the internet make things better? I discovered forums and chat rooms in 1999, I got into blogging in the year 2000, virtual worlds in 2005, and then in 2006, when the term ‘social media’ first started being used do describe all this, I looked it up on Wikipedia and noticed nobody had yet written about the term. So I decided to write it myself. I wrote the first four editions of the page for social media on Wikipedia, and shortly after that, the whole thing started to take off (the pic at the top of this post is fromwhen I was lucky enough to meet the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, and tell him this story!).

So all in all, I experienced an upbringing with tech, and without, with social media, but not too much. And all in all, I experienced the good.

Social media for better or worse

Social media can be a brilliant thing. But it can also cause great damage to people's lives.

The harm of social media didn’t seriously start until relatively recently. The most obvious kind of harm social media can do is harmful communication or harmful content, and the major social networks all work hard to ban abusive language, actions and content. But it still gets through, because of the sheer volume. On Meta alone, which includes social networks Facebook and Instagram, one million posts or accounts every hour of every day are removed because of reasons such as spam, abuse, misinformation or illegal content. Isnt that just insane?

Much of what we see on social media has been checked by the A.I. filters every social network uses, but it still can cause harm. From our addiction to doom scrolling, to the algorithms showing us posts that we wouldn’t ordinarily see, which plant thoughts in our head we wouldn’t necessarily want.

The sad truth is also that many social networks are in fact scaling back their teams whose job it is to remove harmful content and police abuse online, relying instead on their A.I. to filter things. And can we really trust AI to keep us safe?

What can we do about it?

There are things we can all do every day to make our experiences of social media safer. From reporting harmful content to train the social networks’ AI, to training our algorithms through conscious actions, to checking the facts when misinformation circulates. From tricks to snap you out of your doom scrolling, to ways you can better balance your time online and off it.

But many of the fixes are out of our control, and they rely on social networks and law makers playing catch up. This is why Raise exists, to help, raise awareness of the problems and the solutions, and work to make social media the force for good it always wanted to be.

Here at Raise, we’ll be sharing the latest thinking, research, advice and campaigning that will help make social media safer for the next generation. If you think you can help, or if you think you’d like to speak to us, get in touch on hello@raisegeneration.com.