Bullying has many victims.

And while stereotypical images of defenseless kids might come to mind, bullying happens to all types of people — even NBA athletes.

Social media has made bullying easier, more accessible, and more destructive. Basketball fans especially have noticed this rampant spread of hate and disinformation on social media making headlines this past year. From racial slurs to death threats, social media has empowered hate speech to be disseminated flagrantly and safely behind computer screens.

It is this sort of trolling, hate speech, and abusive rhetoric, that social media platforms are built to capitalize on. Harmful content that evokes intense emotion attracts higher engagement, and in turn, more advertising revenue. The math is easy. By tapping into human confirmation biases, algorithms amplify misinformation because it pays to do so. Amid these all-too familiar facts and the whirlwind of negative news coverage around giant social media platforms capitalizing on such harmful practices, the underlying question remains — what is the solution?

Well, it’s a three-pointer: remodel, regulate, and refresh. 

Remodel: Radically transforming the business model that enables big social media platforms to make dollars off of disinformation is the need of the hour. Remodeling includes prioritizing people over profit and building a framework that centers around the removal of deceitful and harmful content. While the algorithms of traditional social media platforms boost posts that drive hatred and polarization to increase engagement, some companies are looking to reverse it. Pixstory is an example of one such company. This integrity-based social media platform has algorithms that reward and recognize truthful content and call-out hateful speech. Pixstory’s contributors hold each other accountable by actively flagging content that is not credible, and their moderators then review the flagged content for its accuracy and integrity. The app issues an integrity score to each user, which is lowered every time a user spreads disinformation or puts up a hateful post, thereby affecting their visibility on the platform. This reflects the same algorithms in existing social media platforms, just in reverse. 

Regulate: Social media giants have thrived in the absence of regulation. However, the next generation of social media will benefit from regulations that promote safety online — a goal that must be made a priority by the individual companies themselves, as well as governing bodies in the public sector. In their most recent move to amplify the harmful effect of social media platforms on people’s mental health, renowned brand Lush Cosmetics quit all social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat) in a great demonstration of companies practicing self-regulation. Moreover, anger and frustration over how platforms use their algorithms to target users (to their detriment) is a bipartisan issue that’s gaining traction. The recently introduced Filter Bubble Transparency Act would require social media platforms to provide a version of the app that doesn’t use algorithms for targeted content. This is one small bite out of a larger problem that needs radical change. 

Refresh: Social media was initially built to connect people and foster a sense of community. However, that goal has long been compromised. Mental health concerns around social media’s harmful practices have only gotten worse over the past few years, demonstrating the real-world implications of content shared onlineWithin sports specifically, many athletes across playing fields have been the center of online hate in 2021 — from Ben Simmons to Thierry Henry. Moreover, there are countless instances of bullying that do not make the news. We need a refresh. The rampant rise of hate speech and misinformation has hurt us as a society. Such dissemination of harmful content can only be curbed by promoting a behavioral change in social media — a clean social media. Online spaces that encourage healthy dialogue should not be the exception, but the norm. Social media platforms can help us achieve this goal and ensure user safety by holding participants accountable to facts and decency in conversation

Striving for a world of clean social media seems Herculean, if not virtually impossible. However, we refuse to believe it can’t be done. There was a time when the term "energy" was synonymous with fossil fuels — that was until clean energy from renewable sources emerged in response to the climate crisis. And we are in crisis mode now. The ongoing social media calamity has slowly but surely hindered the safety and the mental health of many all over the world. Clean social media is the solution that has been long overdue — where integrity is the true MVP.

Appu Esthose Suresh, the founder of Pixstory, is a Senior Atlantic Fellow at International Inequalities Institute, LSE and the author of "The Murderer, The Monarch and The Fakir - A new investigation into Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination."
Dwight Howard – a Pixstory ambassador – is an NBA champion, eight-time All-Star player, eight-time All-NBA Team honoree, five-time All-Defensive Team member, and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Published on Dec 01, 2021