Friday, December 9, 2022

The New Mods!

Social Media used to have moderators to curtail hate-speech.  Today, they moderate to curtail criticism of social media.

I got a refund from Amazon when I ordered six bottles of Phisoderm for Mr. See and received only one, which was leaking.  I posted a review warning others that you might order six, but get one.  The review was nixed by Amazon.  Apparently it is a problem, as several other reviewers noted they received only one or three, after ordering six, and that leakage and poor packing was also an issue.

I'm surprised those reviews were not cancelled as well.

It seems on Amazon, you can critique the product, but not Amazon itself.   Funny, that.

Elon Musk has taken over Twitter and fired most of the moderators who were in charge of curtailing hate speech and flame wars and other nastiness.  Moderation still exists on Twitter, however.  If you post something critical of Elon Musk, your account will be "permanently suspended" - apparently there are limits to free speech, at least in a child's sandbox.

Moderation has a real business purpose.  It is not just there to "suppress ideas" but to make sites safe and attractive for people (and children) to use.  Back in the day - the 1980's and 1990's - when "discussion groups" were in what we now call "the dark web" people would troll and start flame wars and say obnoxious things - none of this is new. Back then, though, the community was small enough that someone playing that game would be shamed off the grid.  So flame wars dampened down naturally, over time.  Trolls slinked off to whatever bridge they lived under.  All was right with the world.

Well, the "newsgooups" were SPAMmed to death as they were, in fact, not moderated.  You would go on a discussion group one day and find 1,000 new messages, all SPAM.  So you stopped going, because there was no moderation.

At about that time, many privately-run commercial sites developed with discussion groups.  They had ads, of course, but were carefully policed for SPAM - except, of course, the under-the-radar stuff I mentioned before, where a "user" would casually mention the name of a product.  But even then, there were users who felt they had to troll and start shit, and flame-wars erupted.  The problem was, people got annoyed with this and stopped using the site.  The trolls won, but no one - not even trolls - wants to go onto a site that is nothing but trolls.  The trolls need "normies" to argue with, it seems.

So many sites resorted to using moderators - sometimes paid employees, sometimes volunteers.  If things were starting to go off the rails and personal insults being exchanged, racial epithets thrown around, or death threats or other noxious content, the "mods" could shut it down, delete postings and warn users - or even ban them.   There is no profit in banning users, however, as you need users to get that click-through revenue.  So banning users was always - and is always - a last resort.

The point is, moderation was used - and until recently, is used - not to "suppress our free-dums!" but for a business case - to preserve the site as attractive and useful so as to attract, not repel, users.  Un-moderated sites quickly become ghost towns.

Some argue that you should let odious content onto a site, as users would - as in the old days - shout down and shame odious thoughts and ideas.  But as recent times have illustrated, it is possible to recruit teenagers in the UK to join ISIS, or recruit a housewife in Louisiana to not vaccinate her kids, or recruit a 20-something in Oregon into believing the Earth is flat, and... so on and so forth.

Social media sites are businesses - poorly run and largely unprofitable businesses - but businesses nevertheless. They have a business interest in not becoming so toxic that no one wants to use them.  And as privately run businesses, they do not fall under the purview of the First Amendment, as they are not government agencies.  Let that sink in.

Sadly, it seems this idea of "free-dum!" is taking hold, and it may be the downfall of one or more social media sites.  Advertisers found out the hard way that having your ad next to odious content creates a "dirty halo" effect. Sometimes the effect is humorous. This morning on Reddit was an ad for McDonald's, imploring people to "try" a quarter-pounder with cheese (I guess this is a new thing?).  Right next to the ad was a posting, "What fast-food chain has really jumped the shark?"  The juxtaposition was funny, but I am sure McDonald's marketing department was not amused.

So, eliminating "mods" is really a bad business move. Without some sort of editorial control, a social media site can quickly descend into madness. And eventually, the good people leave, one by one, until there is nothing left but toxicity.  And at that point, what kind of business do you have?

We saw this with the odious Glenn Beck - the first far-right commentator in the Internet age to be "cancelled."   He was making good money with his gig - spreading conspiracy theories and far-right nonsense (most of which seems tame these days).   Advertisers were buying online ads in bulk, and not targeting certain demographics or understanding where their ads were going - or how their ad money was being spent.  When they found out - from angry customers - that their ads were appearing next to odious content, they pulled the plug.  The dirty halo is an anti-advertisement.

Advertisers also discovered the demographics matter - and the whole point of social media advertising is to target specific demographics, right down to individual accounts.   I search online for a new jigsaw, and suddenly, my "feed" is flooded with ads for jigsaws - as an example (I bought one at a garage sale, brand new, for $5 the other day.  Nice one, too!).

What advertisers found out was that the sort of people who listen to Glenn Beck or other far-right conspiracy sites, don't have a lot of money.  They aren't buying a new Chevrolet - they drive a 20-year-old one, with no license plates on it, because they're "sovereign citizens!"  And they're flat broke.  That is not a target demographic.  Towards the end, Beck had ads for penis enlargers and gold scams - the only thing survivalists and nut-jobs would buy.

Twitter risks the same downward spiral.  The site has always lost money, and now with its losses doubled due to debt load, it can ill-afford to lose its advertising revenue.  Sure, it may coast on for a while - as the odious Glenn Beck did - but eventually, people will wander off, particularly the good people, when they see "Mein Kampf" posted as recommended reading.  This leaves the conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, holocaust deniers, racists and hatemonger to dominate the site.  People will flee - advertisers have already fled.

What is ironic to me is that while Musk has all but eliminated moderation on Twitter, there still is a moderation group, it appears, whose only job is to moderate content critical of Elon Musk.  In other words, don't piss off the rich kid who owns the sandbox.  Anything else is fair game.  It is pretty ridiculous if you think about it  - "Free Speech for everyone!  Provided it isn't critical of me, of course!"

Irony is lost on Afrikaners it seems.

Of course, the other problem with advertising on social media is that we are entering a worldwide recession and everyone is tightening their belts.  Companies are examining their expenses to see what can be cut.  In the advertising budget - a big chunk of many industries - you have to realize what is effective and what isn't. And many advertisers are realizing that they have over-paid for online advertising, as the "click-through" revenue simply isn't real.

You've been on more than one "news" site that jiggles and jumps as different portions of a page load.  You try to "X-out" of an ad, but instead it redirects you to the advertiser's website.  You quickly close-out that tab, but the advertiser just paid for that click. Was that worthwhile to them?  You hardly glanced at the site and no, you are not interested in women's cosmetics - so what's the point?  The company paid for what they thought was a good "lead" but the leads were weak.

So there is a lot of systemic problems with these social media sites.  Advertisers are fleeing, budges are being cut back, and odious content will drive away users.

What's the solution?

Delete any comments criticizing the site or its owners.

Yea, that'll work!