Future Enterprise

The Social Media Trust Dilemma: Economic Opportunities Outweigh Economic Outcome

Exploring the opportunities and outcomes that social media trust - and distrust - create.
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  • Are you an active social media user?
  • If yes, have you ever been trolled on social media?
  • If yes, have you consumed fake news on social media?
  • If yes, do you believe your personal information may have been mishandled on social media?
  • If yes, read on…

With the advent of the internet, no one ever imagined the far fetching consequences social media platforms would have on humans. Do you agree that social media platforms today are like intelligent machines depicted in the Matrix movie trilogy? The movies project a dystopian future in which humanity is trapped inside a simulated reality much like today, where social media platforms, such as Facebook, trap users in a digital reality with no escape. If you agree, read on…

Let me ask you a few more questions.

  • Is social media one of your primary sources of information (including current events)?
  • If yes, do you trust the information available on social media to be accurate and reliable?
  • If no, would you like to receive accurate information from respected sources?
  • If yes, would you pay for a service that delivers accurate information from respected sources?
  • If no, would you be willing to use a social media platform that requires you to identify yourself with a government issued ID to use the platform for free?
  • If no, therein lies the problem.

The bottomless abyss of greed for free access to digital services comes at a cost to individuals and society. The true impact of dispersion of (mis)information over unregulated social media has caused incomprehensible levels of polarization, segregation, isolation, cyberbullying, depression, violence, and extensive retention of user information, as well as invasion of privacy.

In today’s world of mass and high velocity of (mis)information dissemination, the enabling social media platforms are under high scrutiny and pressure to bear responsibility for both positive and negative outcomes. In effect, these enabling platforms, like Facebook, can make or break a small group of individuals or society at large.

Facebook’s feather in the hat is connecting individuals all around the world but its black eye(s) come from multiple sources. The company is marred by several controversies and yet remains the most powerful social media platform around the world.

An Issue, a Mistake, a Breach of Trust

In 2016, it was revealed that through an informed consent process, Facebook had allowed a third-party, Cambridge Analytica, to collect information on nearly 87 million users, of which nearly 71 million were in the United States. This information enabled the creation of psychographic profiles to serve ads and eventually influence the 2016 presidential elections in the United States.

As though this wasn’t enough, leaked documents showed Facebook leveraged user data to fight rivals and control competition and was subsequently investigated by state and federal authorities. In 2019, Facebook was charged with a $5 billion fine – almost 20 times larger than the largest privacy or data security penalty ever imposed worldwide – for violating consumers’ privacy. In fact, it is one of the largest penalties ever assessed by the U.S. government for any violation.

Connect the Unconnected in an Untrusted World

Facebook’s ingenious creativity for dominance in the digital world is in effect even today. In 2013, the company founded Free Basics (previously known as Internet.org), a service that attempted to “connect the unconnected” with affordable internet access for underdeveloped and developing countries. This service provides free of data charges access to a variety of basic services like news, weather and health information, job ads, and of course, Facebook. As some critics would say, this walled-garden model is reminiscent of a 1990s AOL web portal. While the company lobbied hard and eventually failed to get India to agree to this program, in 2019, Free Basics was live in 28 African countries, no longer available in three and banned only in Egypt.

Oops, I Did it Again. And Again.

In 2014, the company introduced an optional service for mobile devices that could identify any music or television shows that might be playing so that a user can share that information with friends. It appeared that after that the company made several moves to take privacy a bit more seriously… though only for a short time. In 2019, it was revealed that Facebook was transcribing audio messages of users.

We can keep going but I suppose you get the point.

Would Greater Legislation and Regulation Help?

While there has been a significant outcry and demand for government intervention on issues stemming from social media, the various nation-states have not yet come together under a global banner, such as the United Nations, to tackle this mayhem. To that effect, the social contract between the public and the government is more damaged than enhanced.

Technology companies, especially social media platforms, are like living organisms. They adapt to their surroundings and the local governments. In many cases, these social media platforms are more powerful than local government because of their ability to sell predictive behaviors (by leveraging psychographic profiling) thus creating a submarket of surveillance capitalism. These social medial platforms likely have more accurate insights than the local government of the number of residents in each country where they operate.

And in that, the government finds use for the information that these social media powerhouses collect and mine. In the public eye the government and social media platforms may come across as adversaries – the former trying to regulate the other – but in real life, there is far more collusion than we know. Suffice to say that the public facing commitments of the social media platforms, as well as the government versus those behind the scenes, are drastically different.

So, what is the solution?

Digital Identification is the Issue of our Lifetime.

The only promising solution is worldwide regulation that requires social media platforms to allow access only to those users who identify themselves with legal government issued credentials. Additionally, regulations that require social media platforms to appropriately compensate users for sharing their data with consent will streamline data collection and following governance policies.

The downside is the potential for identity fraud. Social media platforms must rethink their understanding of digital identity. Employing static details, such as usernames and passwords, or security questions are no longer sufficient to ensure that user access is in fact legitimate. It is imperative to implement fraudster resistant solutions – like biometrics – that rely on unique identifiers to soothe the worries of customers, consumers, businesses, governments, and content creators.

Trust is Earned When Actions Meet Words 

A recent IDC survey indicates that approximately a third of 791 global respondents foresee no change in spending on identity governance for 2021. IDC believes a majority of these respondents are currently spending little to no funds for governance technology.

For those projecting an increase, Asia/Pacific is significantly higher than other regions.  IDC speculates that this may be an indication of maturing security programs and new technology adoption as Asia/Pacific has not been a big market for governance technology leaders. Organizations in the USA are projecting the largest governance spending totals with 13% indicating a 20% or more budget expansion (matching expectations for advanced authentication totals). 

It will take public aspirations and political will for digital identity to become mainstream. Until then, if you like this blog and would like to engage with us, please email me at apotnis@idc.com.

If you would like to learn more about the Future of Trust or other IDC’s “Future of X” practices, visit our website at https://www.idc.com/FoX.

Amita Potnis

Research Director, Infrastructure Systems, Platforms and Technologies Group