Can social media be regulated?
If millennials are the yardstick by which we measure what drives communication on social media, then it would seem that all eyes should be on social messaging platforms such as WhatsApp this year. This is the view of Dominique Pienaar, CEO of DUO Marketing & Communications, who says these platforms are becoming increasingly popular due largely to the immediacy of contact and response and are certainly preferred platforms among the millennial market when it comes to one on one, broadcast and group communication.
WhatsApp will be an interesting one to watch, she says. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for a reported US$22bn and is now looking to introduce tools that will enhance business communication over WhatsApp – something Pienaar believes will be advantageous in the B2B sector, where some companies are already using the platform for customer support. It’s likely, she says, that Facebook will be looking for ways to monetise WhatsApp and, to this end, will probably start to offer advertising over WhatsApp. “If Instagram is anything to go by, this will be a case of when, and not if.”
Social media platforms across the board are set to become increasingly important sources of news and information. “Instead of reading a newspaper, many people look to Facebook and Twitter to catch up on what’s happening around them. Though this is not a new trend, it is a growing one,” she says.
Her concern is that as social media platforms become sources of news, they somehow need to distinguish between real events and fake news. “Social media is becoming a trusted media platform. That said, no-one is really taking the responsibility to authenticate the facts.”
While Pienaar is quick to point out that she is no expert when it comes to social media regulations, she says DUO is a keen observer of the issues around legislation and of whether it is even possible to regulate social media. “The fact is that with the pace of technological change, not to mention the incidence of new platforms, it would be challenging for legislation to keep up, unless it were extremely generic,” she notes.
It does, however, spark an interesting debate around issues such as whether it is possible to authenticate content published on social media and, if so, who is in charge of policing the content on these platforms. Perhaps it would be up to the administrators to use a pragmatic approach in terms of what they are prepared to post and use the same guidelines to determine what can and cannot be communicated. In much the same way, users of social media themselves need to have a moral responsibility to post content that is not defamatory or untrue. On the other hand, would regulating content not take away the very essence of what social media is?
Ultimately, Pienaar poses the question that if we do impose stringent regulations around social media, who will be responsible for briefing in those regulations, as well as implementing them and ensuring that they are upheld. “In a country where law enforcement is already overburdened, this is surely something that would be deemed less important in the greater scheme of things,” she muses.
“Perhaps the point here is that with the social media environment being such a fast paced and dynamic one, there are many issues to grapple with,” she concludes.
The big take-out: While there are valid reasons for the call for social media regulation, the implementation and enforcement of any such regulation could be prohibitively expensive and problematic. Individuals need to play their part by being proactive and reporting/flagging fake news, and by being more selective about the content they share.