Social Media have too much of Diesel

This is not an ecology section of portal. Neither is this blog about if Facebook or LinkedIn drive electric cars or classical combustion engines. The issue is more serious here, our privacy and its handling are at stake. Well, just make your own call on this:

Indisputably the biggest scandal of the automotive industry was the Diesel Gate. In this well protracted case car producers modified the software in the car in a way that it runs more efficiently (read with lower engine output) but only in situation when car computer realized it is docked to emission measurement device. As a result the congestion smog emitted by car was much lower during the test compared to values from real drive out there on the roads. While most of the countries only realize emission tests in technical review sites (enabled with those dockers), diesel cars appeared to be more ecological as they truly are.

Important twist of this scandal was fact that Automotive (by car software manipulation) created environment where they were the only guards to themselves. Being your own judge does not necessarily mean you will cheat. But if you add strong competitive fight and cheaper market entrants the odds of the misbehaving are rising. Therefore, often the only factor swerving from fair customer treatment to fraud is the management integrity. In retrospect we know that automotive managers failed to hold the principles railing.

If the manipulated cars were passing one emission test after the other, you might wonder: How, on Earth, could they have been caught? The punchline of the story is actually very interesting and carries over the lessons learned for social media that are mentioned in blog headline. The misbehaving of the car producers was detected by NGO which is testing the car economy in real life usage. Their emission readings were for Diesel cars order of magnitude off the  laboratory (docker) measurements, while regular gasoline engines’results were quite close to official numbers. That rose suspicion or experts and tipped the avalanche of revelation of these fraudulent practices. But how does this relate to social media?

Recent social media businesses are just before similar period that car manufacturers were. When it comes to Fake news control of hoaxes eradication, they are both the messenger of the news and the quality (and user impact) watchdog. It is only subject to their inner moral integrity how well they gonna police the standards. What is more, they are in similar position when it comes to our private information and it (commercial) usage. Even though their business mode is built on monetizing information of its own users, there is next to none regulation setting the limits or reason or punishing greed of those Goliath’s. Cambridge Analytics issue was the the poster-child example of what we are talking about. If you think that GDPR has brought some justice to the topic, look at how pathetic the improvement of some companies are. When it comes to XAI (Explainable AI, depicted here) there is not even an general guideline proposed.

Therefore, the answer to this treacherous mode might be similar as was in Diesel Gate. After the emission full outbreak, honest automotive companies desperately called for independent agencies measuring the real emitted levels of gases in real day-to-day car driving to run the public test of actual emissions. They realized that their business (and brands) are user trust dependent. Car, after all, is The tool that we all put our lives and lives of our families into chance. Thus, line of though such as “If they had cheated about such banal thing  as emissions, what else from security features could they have lied about?” is dangerous rope to balance on. Unfair ecology treatment (let’s face it most of us is ignorant about) might easily turn into customer mistreating Wolkswagen (or other brand). So the prevention of repeating of the fraud, has been guarded by free third parties.

The problem of social media is that they still are in Diesel phase.  They did bot understand/admit the value of third party auditing. Mark Zuckerberg (and other social media executives) are talking us down with statements that best prevention is to hand over the fake news fight to internally developed detection routines. They do so also in midst of several blunt failures about conspiration theories or scandals of mistreatment of privacy data of own users. Social media companies simply don’t realize that they risk scenario that hit the automotive industry. They also neglect fact that if Facebook (or social network) users feel like they are being lied or bullied about own privacy data,  users will trigger massive exodus from that platform. If you count on human laziness to prevail and people swallowing their concerns, you better know that 1] for forthcoming generation the Facebook is already not a first social media choice; 2] Similar piece of mind about high (mental) switching cost was held by mobile operators, banks or utilities and they have to struggle to keep their user-bases.

Social media still have too much of the Diesel. If you want to benefit out of this, don’t go selling electric cars to Zuckerberg, but rather design for them algorithms to evaluate their work with user data. Or launch a new social media network that is going to have transparent and accessible audit of user data handling built directly into core functions from very beginning. Because social media will also go through their Diesel Gate, And probably pretty soon …