Social Media Must Disentangle Our Relationships With Friends and Our Relationships With The Media

Evan Spiegel
Founder and CEO of Snap, Inc.

From Facebook to Twitter, to WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and many others, the world has become an enlarged place where people can live in both the real world, and the world they created on social media.

As a result, there is no doubt that social media networks have occupied most people's time on the web.

People become obsessed, with many of them willing to do practically anything to be seen and be viral.

But here is the thing, social media network thrive on that. While people can do anything and share anything, and be happy from the likes and shares they earn, it's the platform that houses those contents that benefit the most.

And here, they have somehow incentivize negative behavior.

"These platforms have created an environment ... that incentivize negative behavior. You can create a personalized content experience that doesn't compromise integrity," said Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snap.

Personalized newsfeeds, while revolutionary in changing the way people share and consume content, "came at a huge cost to facts, our minds and the entire media industry." And this is why misinformation and harassment is so widespread on the platforms.

Evan Spiegel

"This is a challenging problem to solve because the obvious benefits that have driven the growth of social media – more friends! more likes! more free content! – are also the things that will undermine it in the long run."

Social media networks in general, are meant to provide the platform for self-expression.

Here, they are part of a shift where users are communicating using applications to express themselves. But this is where things went wrong:

As these services are designed to share information that aren't necessarily the accurate information, this provides fake news the breeding ground they need to spread viraly.

"After all, how many times have you shared something you've never bothered to read?" Spiegel explained.

His solution is to be smart.

Using algorithms for example, that are created to show contents based on users' interest, and not the interests of "friends."

"We think this helps guard against fake news and mindless scrambles for friends or unworthy distractions," Spiegel continued.

Spiegel mentioned Netflix as an example. The online media company uses machine-learning algorithms to recommend contents to subscribers based on what they watched in the past.

"Research shows that your own past behavior is a far better predictor of what you're interested in than anything your friends are doing. This form of machine learning personalization gives you a set of choices that does not rely on free media or friend's recommendations and is less susceptible to outside manipulation."

If people fear that algorithms are taking over, Spiegel said that it's important to remember that humans are the ones who created the algorithms.

Therefore, humans can also optimize these algorithms to account for human behavior.

"This means that an algorithm can be designed to provide multiple sources of content and different points of view."

For social media, it is very important that future content feeds are built on top of a human-curated supply of content, and not from just anything that surfaces on the internet.

Curating contents this way can change the social media model and also give users both reliable content and the content they want.

"The combination of social and media has yielded incredible business results, but has ultimately undermined our relationships with our friends and our relationships with the media. We believe that the best path forward is disentangling the two by providing a personalized content feed based on what you want to watch, not what your friends post."