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Clobbering Social Media

February 25, 2019

There is growing pressure within and upon government to "do something" about social media. The self-righteous claim is that we must "hold social media accountable" for fake news and false information (an oxymoron; if information is false, it isn't information).

Those who demand that social media control their content liken them to traditional news media with its supposed focus on journalistic responsibility. (Transgressions of that myth are a topic for another day.) The argument blunders along that we need to "level the playing field," so that social media sites are "doing the right thing" by respecting their "social responsibility" to provide us with valid, truthful, and socially acceptable content in which birds sing, flowers bloom, and all is right with the world. Apparently, it hasn't occurred to the panickists (people who panic for fun) that social media are not the same as news media. Their relationship is similar to that between lottery tickets and speeding tickets. The devil is in the adjective.

I have two problems with this demand for control. The first one is the assumption that we are too stupid to figure out which posts are inane and which have some merit. But I dealt with that in an earlier rant (Protecting us from Fake News), so I won't dwell on it here.

My other problem is numbers and the apparent innumeracy of the panickists. So let's have a look at what their demands would require. We'll stick with Facebook.

According to Facebook's statistics, on average its users post half a million comments each minute. That's 720,000,000 posts per day. Yes, almost three-quarters of a BILLION comments each day.

What would it take to police this? Algorithms might weed out comments that use obscenities or insulting terms, but it takes judgment—a human reviewer—to make sure. According to my calculations, this workforce would need about four hundred thousand people. (Anyone interested in how I got this figure, drop me a line.) Assuming an average salary plus benefits of $50,000 per year, this army would cost Facebook about twenty billion dollars. That's billion. With a B. And that doesn't include the costs of supervisors, office cubicles, bathrooms, lunchrooms, workstations, parking spaces, foosball tables, and therapy for stricken staff bedevilled with PTSD from the filth they have been exposed to.

Now I suppose to governments, to which a billion dollars is petty cash, this doesn't mean much, which may explain why they are unconcerned about the costs. Or maybe they just don't bother their vacant heads about trivia like money. After all, they don't have to pay the bill. And hey, the revenue from another four hundred thousand taxpayers will help us cover yet another boondoggle.

I wonder how traditional media sounding the klaxon call for social media control would react to the suggestion that a multi-billion-dollar cost was about to be imposed on them. I'm guessing not well.