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Social media companies are causing society-wide damage, says Digital Media Producer

出自香港新聞網 - 樹仁新傳系學生實習習作

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By Isabel Ng, 4 Dec 18

Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media companies are causing society-wide damage, contributing to civil unrest and sectarian turmoil around the world, delayed responses to disinformation campaigns, said Wong.

It wouldn’t be painless, but Facebook in particular is in a world of hurt already, facing criticism misleading users about data-handling policies, and efforts to discredit critics, not to mention a budding employee revolt, said Wong Ho Pan at an assembly at Shue Yan University today.

“But they tend to describe the problems as much smaller, resulting from rogue individuals and groups hijacking their systems for nefarious purposes,” said Wong.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media companies have built an enormous digital influence machine powered by user tracking, targeting, testing and automated decision-making to make advertising more effective and efficient. While building this supercharged surveillance system, companies have promised users and regulators that targeted advertising is mutually beneficial for both consumers and advertisers.

In this bargain, users are supposed to receive more relevant ads. Facebook, for instance, explains that its “interest-based advertising” serves users who “want to see ads that relate to things they care about,” said Wong.

It’s true that these methods can identify ads that connect with users’ actual interests, he added.

Wong has worked as a media producer for many years in television and advertising. From TVB, Hong Kong, and cable TV, he kicked off his career as a college lecturer, then a primary school teacher, and now a freelance digital media producer. “I believe the roots lie in their extremely profitable advertising systems, which need a major overhaul,” said Wong.

Some researchers have identified some key changes that these giant powerhouses could make right away, said Wong.

“These moves could reduce opportunities for political manipulation and limit the harm to democratic societies around the world,” said Wong.

Targeting political ads is not unique to online advertising, but the tools of digital ad systems are vastly more powerful than traditional mass media. 

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