MozFest 2021: Understanding digital rights on social media

Josh Clarke, Library Assistant with Sefton Libraries, explains how MozFest 2021 made him reconsider how information posted to social media platforms is controlled and filtered.

It was great to be able to attend a virtual Mozfest this year - thanks to all involved. I was particularly challenged by a couple of sessions that highlighted problems with social media platforms, and the companies that own them. The session led by Carolina Are (bloggeronpole) focused on the issue of moderating content on social media.

She started by asking the question of how open we thought social media spaces were, and whether they were a corporate company or a civic space? This was something I hadn't really questioned before, but it was clear that although we may think of it as a civic space, it is still controlled by a corporate company.

She talked about being a pole dance instructor and how her performances have been hidden on Tik Tok and Instagram for going against their community guidelines, even though they don't. This means her page is hidden even from those who have signed up for it. However, similar images posted by celebrities are not being removed because their content is given a 'double review' when it’s flagged. No further explanation is ever provided for the banning of her images. These are inconsistencies that highlight the need for more open and transparent governance.

Continuing with that idea was a session led by Lisa Gutermuth and Veszna Wessenauer from the company Ranking Digital Rights. The company studies digital platforms and ranks them on factors, such as transparency, privacy, and freedom of expression - based on international human rights standards. The session challenged us to have a deeper look at company policies, especially those relating to targeted ads and collecting data. I realised that many companies are deliberately vague about the data they use and they do not make it clear to users how to control how their data is used.

Both of these sessions highlighted that social media platforms (and digital companies as a whole) need a set of rules, subject to laws, that allow people's rights to be looked after. These conversations about ethical use of social media are ones which I will be taking back to my work at the library - I think these are important discussions to have with both colleagues and with the public.