Browsing social media is one of the world’s most popular online pastimes. 2020 saw the number of registered users rise to 3.6 billion and that figure is set to grow to 4.4 billion by 2025.
Such a huge consumer base puts a lot of responsibility on social networks to improve their service. There have been many studies into how social media can negatively impact mental health, so there’s a huge demand for increased user safety.
2021 looks set to be a year of changes in this regard, with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all making adjustments – here are some of the most important.
Insta/Facebook Covid information
One of the biggest challenges of the Covid pandemic has been the continual spreading of misinformation online. Experts believe that it contributes to the number of cases and endangers people’s lives.
Instagram, and its parent company Facebook, have announced two key features to fight this: the first is directing users to credible health sources should they search for it. The second is the placement of local health authorities at the top of user feeds, so that they can easily get medical aid if needed.
Users are also told about posts that contain misinformation by sending notifications when they read it, and hashtags containing false data are blocked. Medical experts have welcomed the moves, with many countries experiencing a turbulent winter as hospitals struggle to cope with infections.
TikTok to hide graphic videos behind warning screens
With great power comes great responsibility. TikTok’s video hosting service is all the rage these days, but the site has recognised that its 500 million users, many under adult age, need more robust security measures.
The site has announced the introduction of warning screens before graphic videos, preventing the accidental viewing of disturbing content. These could be horror movie or animal hunting clips. TikTok has already removed swathes of more extreme content but has left some in for ‘documentary reasons’ — sensitive material that could be deemed educational.
It’s not the first time an online company has taken steps to protect its customers, of course: YouTube often carries adult advisory messages with its videos, and online casinos are often obliged to promote responsible gambling practices. However, it’s the first time TikTok has gone to such lengths since its popularity went through the roof in 2018.
2021 will also see text-to-voice accessibility which reads out text as it appears in the video to the benefit of users with epilepsy, as well as factual information about COVID vaccines.
Twitter verification policy
Twitter has faced criticism over the past few years for its lax verification policy when it comes to granting blue ticks to public figures. There have been numerous cases of false accounts which could lead to cases of mistaken identity and the spread of misinformation.
In November, the company pledged to take action and consulted tens of thousands of users for their input. The result is a new security process, launched on 20th January 2021, that will offer users multiple secure ways to self-identify, including providing personal information and being available for a quick phone call.
Existing blue tick accounts who don’t comply with the new measures risk having their badge removed. Twitter will also have the right to remove the blue tick from inactive accounts and memorialise the accounts of deceased users —subject to the user’s wishes.
New Twitter chatrooms
Twitter has faced criticism in the past for not acting quick enough to eliminate abuse on its platform. Some might argue that it’s an impossible task to police millions of tweets per day, but its new Spaces feature is a step towards creating a safe haven for marginalised users.
Spaces are voice-based chatrooms which offer sanctity from abusive messages and trolls. Only a small amount of users will have the power to create one, but they’ll then be able to invite anyone they want – they’ll also be able to control who speaks and who doesn’t.
2021 should see the chatrooms become a permanent feature and a viable alternative for users who need a safe space from abuse. The website is on a mission to change its image and present a softer, more user-friendly version of itself in the future.
Safer social media
Whether these measures prove to be effective remains to be seen, and some critics argue that they might even impinge on users’ personal freedom. Yet with social media use at an all-time high, the demand for increased safety continues to grow also. 2021 could be the year where social media turns over a new leaf and becomes the regulated online entertainment that many people wish for.