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Join us for an online brainstorming session to envision a better way than Threads, Twitter et al

Register here to attend a #CroakeyLIVE on #DigitalNationBuilding, from 5pm AEST on Monday, 14 August

Many in the health sector joined the rush on the latest new social media thing, Threads. In less than five days, the platform reportedly gained 100 million new users, beating even ChatGPT’s recent record as the fastest-growing online platform in history.

But this is not a happy story about the arrival of a popular alternative to the increasingly unpredictable, unreliable and erratic Twitter.

No, the rush on Threads is a reminder of the broken nature of the vital digital infrastructure of our news and information ecosystem.

Only the naive or ill-informed would expect Meta, the octopus owner of Facebook, Instagram and Threads, to champion public interest on this new network. It is another opportunity for corporate surveillance and extraction.

The mind-blowing scale of Thread’s rapid uptake was possible only because of the market dominance of Meta and its Instagram platform. Threads, which requires an Instagram account for access, benefits from Instagram’s existing base of more than 2 billion users.

Already, Meta executives have made their intentions clear.

Threads will not be a platform for hashtags or movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #ClimateAction or #RaiseTheAge and #RaiseTheRate, as indicated below by Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram.

 

Other options?

We need a new digital platform that centres the public interest and that de-platforms hate speech, misinformation and disinformation and that promotes respectful interactions, and reliable news and information.

This could be an opportunity for a nation building project for Australia that would bring global influence and kudos.

Join us to collectively envision a #DigitalNationBuilding project that centres the needs of communities before profits, and that contributes to a healthy, safe and enjoyable digital experience.

Let’s move the conversation beyond the toxicity of Twitter and the marketing machine of Meta.

This online discussion from 5pm AEST on Monday, 14 August will be an informal discussion, where participants can share knowledge and ideas on these topics.

Some public health perspectives and conversations starters follow below…


Taking on the giants

Professor Kathryn Backholer, Deakin University

The flock to Threads is very interesting and I agree with you, Meta is another transnational profit driven business, which we have seen, will almost always put profits before public interest.

Do we really want to be sharing even more of our personal data with one of the largest tech companies in the world, fuelling their growing unchecked power? It interesting that Threads is not available in the EU where there are much stricter privacy rules.

The idea of a public interest platform is great! But it will be hard to compete with global tech giants who, at a time of minimal regulation, wield all the money and power.


Sign me up

Kristy Schirmer, Health communications and health promotion consultant. Co-founder Australian Public Health Consultants Network.

Not only is there no public interest in the Meta and Twitterverses, but there is also apparently a billionaire ego contest driving the management of the platforms where so much of the world’s communication takes place.

I recommend that the public health community has a presence on new and existing platforms, not just to communicate our work, but more importantly to be an observer and advocate for healthy social media settings.

Health can be created and harmed on social media platforms, therefore there is a role for public health.

It’s important that as a community we are aware of risks like unhealthy marketing practices, bullying and harassment and its use for mis/disinformation.

My advice is to jump on board, but do so in a critically aware way. Observe the harms and risks from a big-picture perspective, not just about pushing out your own messages, as fun as it is to play in new social playgrounds.

As it stands, until Threads incorporates hashtags or a mechanism for connecting communities, it is currently unworkable in the same way the public health community has used Twitter for many years. There is no way to share commentary on issues or live tweeting at conferences.

Social media is now a part of our everyday lives and has a vital role in shaping public policy and news. I would ideally love to see a not-for-profit platform that provides a safe space for users to engage with content.

Communities run infrastructure of all kinds such as renewable energy, social housing and a range of advocacy groups and clubs. Why not a social media platform? Sign me up.


Critical concerns

Dr Gemma Crawford, Australian Health Promotion Association President

As noted recently by AHPA member Dr. Becky White in this Croakey article, misinformation and disinformation have significant impacts on public health.

Levels of individual and community digital and health literacy and trust in government influence susceptibility to misinformation. These are critical issues for health promotion as is building critical health literacy – the social and political action required to reduce the health and social impacts of these issues.

AHPA welcomes robust policy and community initiatives to reduce misinformation and disinformation on digital platforms.

We look forward to contributing our health promotion expertise to discussions that explore the potential for a new digital platform free from false and misleading information to advance a healthy, equitable Australia.


Pause for thought

Professor Sharon Friel, Director, Australian Research Centre for Health Equity, ANU

Yes I agree – I think the Twitter debacle, and the Meta market grab manoeuvre, could give us pause for thought and as a society ask the question ‘big tech/big media – for what purpose?’

The public interest seems to have been diminished, which is harmful for any form of social purpose, including health equity. Creating a policy and regulatory environment that forefronts the public over private interests is essential. Learning from the ‘Just tech’ movement highlights the importance of a mechanism (agency/regulation) that monitors and enforces principles of fairness in media and information systems.


Share experiences, ideas and knowledge

Professor Megan Williams, Chair, Croakey Health Media

The concept of nation building did prick my ears up, and think about what we can learn from Indigenous Elders, governance and protocols for communicating, including in alliances, place-based, and intergenerational responsibilities. How can those concepts inform a way forward?

A funding stream through government is urgently needed, including through public health and health. In ageing populations with prison rates increasing and climate crisis, there are real vulnerabilities from not communicating well.

This is about keeping up with the times and technology. We shouldn’t be separating out the digital platforms from communication strategies. They are important platforms for conveying evidence, information for communities, ie it’s about more than socialising. This is a form of voice for healthcare users, in healthcare design, especially to break down rural, remote and urban divides.

We should innovate and use digital technologies in more mature ways, rather than still seeing them as this unique thing. We are living in the past if we keep using them in the same old ways.

We invite Croakey readers to come to this meeting to share their experiences of using digital platforms in sustained and sustainable ways. To hear about their experiences of misinformation and disinformation, ideas for innovation. Even in five years, what needs could they expect to have to be met.

Let’s think about a socially governed platform, a community controlled platform that reflects our citizenship and is part of using our citizenship and expressing our citizenship.


Online commentary


Above is an example of how the changes at Twitter are affecting our work at Croakey Health Media.


Further reading


Previously at Croakey

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