By Shriya Roy
The terms ‘misinformation’, ‘fake news’, ‘hate speech’ and ‘abuse’ have become synonymous with all modern social networking platforms. Be it Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you will find as much ugliness as there is beauty on these platforms. In fact, these sites have often been on the receiving end of criticism by netizens for not taking action against trolls or hate speech.
As a result, a wide variety of new social networks have cropped up keeping these aspects in mind and trying to flip the old model on its head. Some of them include using audio for more personal connections through Clubhouse, eliminating clout chasing through Twelv or, in the case of the new social network Telepath, by designing a platform guided by rules that focus on enforcing kindness, countering abuse and disabling the spread of fake news.
Clubhouse, for example, is an audio-based social network, where people can spontaneously jump into voice chat rooms together. The user can see the unlabelled rooms of all the people they follow and can join to talk or just listen. Meanwhile, Twelv came up as a sort of an Instagram alternative, which ditches the “Like” button concept and all the other features overloading Instagram. It instead is a more traditional photo-sharing site.
Telepath, on the other hand, is much more interesting and exciting, as it directly deals with countering fake news and hate speech. Its main aim is to create a hate speech-free platform, where fake news can’t be distributed. No social network till date has been able to accomplish what Telepath claims it aims to.
At first look, Telepath looks very much like just another feed. When the user launches the app, the home feed shows up, where conversation topics from communities and interesting replies are highlighted—orange for those replies from people you follow and grey for those that Telepath has determined are worth being elevated to the home screen.
The user can “Thumbs Up” content they like or “Downvote” what they don’t. The most interesting part about the app is that everything disappears after 30 days. This means, no one will get to dig through misinformed posts from a decade ago. The terms and conditions of joining the platform, too, are widely different. Users who join Telepath must agree to “be kind”, which is rule number one. They must also not attack one another based on identity or harass others. They must use a real name and not post violent content or porn. Fake news is absolutely banned.
When a user breaks the rules, moderators may first warn them about the violation and may require them to take down or edit a specific post. But if a user breaks the rules repeatedly or in a way that seems intentional, such as engaging in a harassment campaign around another user, they are banned entirely. Because of the phone number verification system, they also can’t easily return.
Anti-abuse tools like Smyte have also been used by giants such as Twitter to try and stop online harassment and abuse. And it’s not just the tech world. Global initiatives to counter fake news and false information, especially in these times, have been undertaken by organisations like the United Nations as well. In its initiative called ‘Verified’, launched over the past months, the UN undertook the job to combat the growing scourge of Covid-19 misinformation by increasing the volume and reach of trusted and accurate information.
“We can’t cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate,” said United Nations secretary-general António Guterres, who announced the initiative. “Misinformation spreads online in messaging apps and person-to-person. Its creators use savvy production and distribution methods. To counter it, scientists and institutions like the United Nations need to reach people with accurate information they can trust.”
The initiative is calling on people around the world to sign up to become “information volunteers” to share trusted content. Described as digital first responders, the volunteers will receive a daily feed of verified content, approved for social sharing with simple messages either directly countering misinformation or filling information void.
These platforms and initiative are trying their best to combat the mainstream flow of wrong information, fake news, abuse and giving social media and social sharing a new lease of life with a tinge of goodness and hope.