A Humble Proposal to Make Social Media Useful, and Journalism Better

Initially, when it was new, social media was supposed to be a great equalizer. But it hasimages not worked out so well. What was supposed to hasten in an “Arab Spring” in some parts of the world has led instead to regime crackdown on technology. In China the government is using technology to act more like Big Brother to monitor every area of private life rather than to respond to citizen voices.

Here in the U.S., what was supposed to be “media democracy” has instead become more of a media cacophony, with multiple screaming voices and outright misinformation or actual “fake” news.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times asserts that social networks need to address this problem as a system error, and not react in real-time on a case by case basis. The article frets–as you might suspect from the NYT–that journalists should not have to do the job of policing the content on social networks. The social networks have that responsibility, and they are failing at it.

I’m not a tech guru by any stretch, but I have a humble suggestion to address the problem, to fix the “signal to noise” ratio, to return to quality vs quantity of posts, and to realize that on matters of truth and democracy, in our modern era the “marketplace if ideas” has become a third-world bazaar and we might appreciate a row of simple boutiques.

OK, maybe that’s a bad metaphor. But here is my thinking:

Social networks should start a separate channel just for news. This returns us to the old days when “bonafide” journalism was obvious to recognize by publication or network or program. Participants in this channel should be vetted as professional news organization, and this may include new media, but they must prove themselves to be legitimate in coverage of facts and to clearly label opinion where that is the nature of content (as the old op-ed pages in actual print do). They should ensure a non-partisan tone and focus on informing the public of facts, policy proposals, and straightforward information from business, sports, entertainment and other beats also. They could even hire journalists to do this.

Another channel should be set aside for brands. This would be where users could choose to see the content originally associated with pages. If people actually want to have a relationship and stay informed about a company, its products and services, or even its cause-related activity, this is the place for it.

Still another channel could be dedicated to causes. This is where nonprofits could shine, engaging users in fundraising, education, volunteer recruitment, and activism campaigns.

The government would have its own channel called civics. The White House, the state house, city hall, government agencies and office holders at all levels could communicate to constituents directly here.

Finally there would be a channel called, wait for it, social. This is where people could engage with their friends and family in a social nature.

If individuals wanted to share news, brands, causes or civics information, they could. But links back would take users to those channels to view the original content and engage in any discussion.

I don’t know if Facebook wants to try this and roll out the new feature for Christmas. Or, maybe there is an enterprising start-up out there reading this who can enter the market competitively by offering sanity with their social network. I don’t have the time, finances, or tech chops to roll this out myself. But if anyone wants to compensate me for the idea, I’m listening.
I’m also listening to what anyone else has to say about this issue.

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