I love the sea. But I hate being in the sea. I love to watch its power, enjoying the rhythmic chaos from a suitable distance. I’m happy for those who enjoy it and have come to learn its ways and thrive around it. But I’ll maintain my respectful distance as best I can.
I wish more people would respect the internet in the same way.
No matter how polished and commercialised it has become, the internet is still a dangerous place.
Removing all of its dangers would be a terrible waste. We could use more protections, but we should never demand the fundamental freedom and open potential of digital systems to be undermined in the name of ‘safety’.
This week’s TikTok situation is an example of poor governance allowing horrors to bubble to the surface.
Facebook made the first error. A classic Facebook error. It was asked to stop a livestream of someone in danger of self-harm, and it said the stream did not breach its standards
. The worst then happened, and the video was available for some time before it was finally reviewed again and taken down.
What made it a TikTok problem is TikTok’s algorithmic power. The thing that has made it so successful so quickly in the face of Facebook and Google dominance – its shift away from friend-focused sharing to algorithmic exploration – is what meant a video no one asked for could be pushed into their feeds and show them something they never asked for and something they could never unsee.
The trolls are still working hard to beat the algorithms that are trying to stop the ongoing distribution of this clip. AI versus human ingenuity (with access to digital tools that can modify and mask and manipulate to dodge automated detections).
Too many reports focus on TikTok. Yes, absolutely, avoid TikTok, encourage young users to avoid it for the rest of the week, and talk about the difference between FOMO and being scarred for life by images that could keep you awake at night.
But apply this same thinking to the idea that we should have a deep respect for how dangerous the online world can be. To build our digital street smarts and to embrace the positive power that lives right alongside the ever present dangers.
Too many parents react swiftly to a few scary headlines but don’t actually do much to educate their kids or have conversations about being a savvy digital citizen.
Use it instead as a reminder that there is a reason for digital vigilance, but also a reason to keep your conversations open with young people. That if they do make a mistake they should feel like they can tell you and not be in trouble for it. Let them express how they feel without fearing they’ll lose privileges because something was pushed toward them by a digital service that was more synonymous with dancing and comedy than graphic acts of harm.