It feels like 2021 will see a big reckoning in the relationships between ‘big tech’ and governments.
In the past few months we've seen Facebook and Twitter ban a US President for spreading misinformation, Facebook and Instagram forced to turn off a number of its features in the EU over privacy rulings, and just last week Australia's government unfriended one of the social media giants.
Discussions around ‘big tech’ are also being brought to the big desk in the Oval Office, as Democrats start to discuss regulations for companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon with President Biden's administration.
The perceived benefits and shortcomings of tech giants have been exposed over the last 12 months and social media has played a pivotal role within our lives during this time. It has allowed us to stay connected to family and friends when not allowed to travel. Social platforms have also provided a lifeline for brands, enabling them to still operate while unable to open their stores.
During this pandemic, many Conversocial partners would have lost vital customers had it not been for Facebook, Google and Apple's private messaging channels. At the start of the pandemic, automation helped airlines deal with the huge surge in customers reaching out to amend or cancel their bookings, and we saw a similar pattern with retailers as more shopping moved online.
There are, however, very real worries over social media’s role in organizing the January 6th attack on the US Capitol and the spreading of disinformation around the election and Covid-19. These events show how much what we say and how we say it matters - a speech followed by a few tweets put US democracy at risk.
I was proud to see tech companies pull together following the Capitol riots - with Twitter permanently banning Trump alongside Google and Apple removing Parler from their app stores. The responsibility that we as tech companies have in the world today extends beyond just our shareholders. Multi-billion dollar companies and startups alike have an impact on the world.
So how can the concerns about the level of influence ‘Big Tech’ has on our lives be addressed, whilst maintaining the advantages it brings to brands and consumers?
I believe there’s going to be a very real move towards private communications over public social. Mark Zuckerberg says the shift is the future of communication. If a review of Section 230 brings about increased regulation of what can be posted on social media feeds, companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google will surely look to private messaging for their future platform innovations.
If the focus of innovation turns from public to private communication channels, privacy becomes an even larger topic of discussion. Covid has brought about a global digital transformation, with more of consumers’ preferences and intents becoming data points collected by brands. There is a balance that will need to be struck between ensuring privacy and providing better, more personalized digital experiences. It’s a question of trust between brands and consumers that will ultimately lead to either very short or increasingly long and loyal lifecycles.
And that’s all from me for the next couple of weeks. As usual, I would love to carry on the conversation at @idohacohen.