Social media use is growing globally year on year. Currently, over 3.5 billion people (or over 45% of the world’s population) are active social media users. This has created a large social media space which, especially in the Western world, is dominated by large players like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat.
But does social media really add value to society? Or, as Sacha Baron Cohen recently said, is it ‘the greatest propaganda machine in history?’ The truth is that it is probably somewhere on the spectrum between enriching lives and destroying souls. It remains indisputable that, through social media, information can be disseminated to all corners of the world at breakneck speed. Posts can go viral through users sharing them via their networks, people can share their lives with their friends and family instantly and many a new celebrity has been created through social media.
On the flip side, social media networks are plagued by fake news, bots working to influence people, illegal use of users personal data, trolling, abuse, hate speech, violent content and online bullying, to name but a few issues. This has led some users to become so scared that they have been driven to self-harm, or worse, suicide. Unfortunately, these issues can be overlooked in the face of perpetuating the lucrative field of social media. When you are building a social network and want to scale it, they key ingredient or the ‘secret sauce’ is the network effect whereby one user invites other users and it snowballs from there.
By default, such social media networks need to develop an aggressive marketing strategy. It becomes crucial to build an organisation where the culture is highly geared towards a numbers game, with each social media network aiming to increase their total and active users. In doing so, the original principle of social media networks gradually slips away. Platforms become increasingly motivated, if not outright obsessed, with profits at the expense of user experience.
Both the US Presidential election and the Brexit Referendum in 2016 are just two recent examples of social media being abused to manipulate people at the ballot box. Against this backdrop, the ‘social’ element seems to have given way to the ‘anti-social’ element. To challenge some of these problems, I recently launched a new social media platform called Labayk. I believe that social networks should be socially responsible and put something back into society. As such, we are building a platform that is based on the principles of honesty, integrity and respect. Hate speech, violence and inappropriate content is not tolerated and taken very seriously. I believe more action needs to be taken to prevent the negative effects social media can have on people’s mental health.
What we want to do is empower individuals to share content that is appropriate with people of a similar persuasion but with a business model that benefits society rather than shareholders. At least 50% of the profits from Labayk will support charitable causes nominated by the users themselves. This is a hugely powerful and socially responsible way of using social media. I hope to encourage compassionate behaviour which is increasingly lacking on other social media networks.
As social networks continue to grow, various different models and interpretations of what a social media platform can be will arise. While the idea of a socially responsible social media network may sound improbable at this stage, one must remember that as the industry matures, users will start asking more questions. They will increasingly interrogate whether being on a social media platform is adding value to their lives and society at large, or whether they are just a statistic to please shareholders. After all, on social media networks, users both create and consume content. So, it only makes sense that it is society at large, not shareholders, that truly benefit from them
Tanweer Khan (founder of Labayk) biography:
Tanweer has spent his entire working career in financial markets, in the UK and Singapore. He worked his way up from cashier, to Global Head of a trading desk at a FTSE 100 bank. Tanweer is also a photography enthusiast and has travelled to over 35 countries photographing and documenting his experiences. He is currently undertaking a Masters Degree at the University of Cambridge.
Labayk, the first socially responsible social media platform:
A new platform will not use targeted or aggressive advertising or sell data to third parties. Instead, Labayk will donate at least 50% of profits to charities that have been chosen by its users. Labayk is free to sign up, and offers everything you need from a social media platform including status updates, direct messaging and photo sharing and uploads. But users won’t be subject to harmful or inappropriate content, aggressive advertising or extremist views. And anyone found trolling, abusing other users or using and spreading hate speech will be instantly removed.