After the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, along with other crown-owned investors, joined together to lead a global collaborative engagement with the world’s three leading social media companies, Facebook, Alphabet (YouTube) and Twitter. AMP Capital was part of this collaborative effort to prevent the live streaming and distribution of objectionable content.
The core focus of the engagement was to improve corporate conduct of the social media companies and demand greater accountability in terms of their impact on society. Now, as the investor collaboration concludes, the question is what progress has been made?
Since the Christchurch attacks, the platforms have all moved to strengthen controls content to prevent the spread of objectionable material. Independent external research was commissioned to help assess whether the changes made by the companies were appropriate for the scale of the problem. The research also took a look into the different types of emerging regulation on this issue.
The research was undertaken by a New Zealand based consultancy Brainbox Institute, which specialises in analysis of issues at the intersection of technology, politics, law and policy. Brainbox found that the measures put in place by the platforms are likely to be highly effective in mitigating the scale in which objectionable content can be disseminated online. However, they also noted that it is unlikely that the platforms will be able to entirely prevent a similar type of incident in the future.
As part of the group of investors who have sought change with social media companies, we take some reassurance from Brainbox’s findings. However, we also know that the platforms are unlikely to absolutely prevent the spread of objectionable content of another similar type of event.
The success or failure of the social media companies in moderating content and preventing abuse is likely to determine whether users stay on the platforms or move towards alternatives. Therefore, social media companies must keep this issue as a core focus and continue to take efforts to prevent objectionable content making it on to their platforms and being viewed by users.
The collaborative engagement winds up with the message to Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet to continue their efforts to manage content risk, and not just to monitor and mitigate abuse but also to prevent it. Safeguards to prevent against abuse must continue to evolve and the social media companies need to report openly and honestly to investors on progress.
More detail on the collaborative engagement and its outcomes is available here.
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