Are Social Media Owners Motivated by Greed?

The purpose of censorship on social media is sometimes said to be solely for maximising profit. The motivation is purely to keep people engaged so that they’re exposed to more ads, so that there is more ad revenue, and therefore opinions, ideas, and values that would scare away advertisers need to be blocked.

This misses the most valuable aspect of what a mass social medium (like Facebook or Twitter) offers. Especially now, when direct unmediated human interaction is rare, for a significant proportion of people, a significant proportion of their interaction and communication is through online media. Peoples’ understanding of what’s happening in the world, what the world is, what is good, and nearly everything else comes through these online media.

For most people, the biggest influence on what they believe is their peer group, or whatever person or group they hold in high esteem. It’s difficult to overstate the intensity of social instincts in humans–people tend to act from these without thinking, without being conscious of it. And fear of ostracization and isolation can overpower even fear of death, as demonstrated by people who kill themselves when something taboo about themselves is revealed (whether true or not), or when they believe that no one loves them.

The real value in controlling social media and online communication in general is the power that comes from being able to manipulate and fake peoples’ perceptions of what their peer group or esteemed group believes and thereby manipulate and alter their beliefs. If communicating some concept or expressing some value becomes forbidden and impossible then people won’t form beliefs based on them.

But even if it’s not fully suppressed, even labelling and categorising it as somehow not OK is enough to signal to peoples’ social instincts that it should be avoided. While this applies most to those who have respect for the institution that applies the label, even those who don’t will still be influenced, they still understand in a sub-conscious instinctual way that these concepts or values should be avoided. At the scale of these institutions, a large effect isn’t required on the individual level in order for there to be large effects on society.

Belief is the basis for power. Armies of men with guns are very powerful, but only if they believe in the legitimacy of the authority that directs them. If that belief goes, the authority can’t wield the power, and it goes too.

Remember, Twitter was able to censor the American president, who in popular imagination is (or was) considered the most powerful man on the planet.

If the people in control of a social medium were solely motivated by profit, and were somehow ignorant and unaware of the power they held, then they would be greatly undervaluing their asset, and because of this would likely sell it to someone who understands its true value and wants its power.

Without peering into the minds of those who actually control these institutions (whoever they are), we may not know for sure that they aren’t solely motivated by profit, but given what we know about the nature of these institutions (they are means to power), and given what we know about the richest and most powerful people (that they want more riches and power, and wouldn’t be hindered by moral considerations), it seems too unlikely, and a bad assumption to make.

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