• Sean Keenan

Strategy for Unethical Content

When creating a content strategy, most of the thought is about what the content will be and how that content will be distributed. An area that’s often neglected though is the ethics behind this content. The rise of social media has allowed nearly anyone to become a content creator. It’s also set up a difficult decision for content strategists to make, as they often have to use unethical content so they can survive in today’s increasingly crowded digital landscape.

Everybody has a voice

Right now, anybody reading this can make a 10 second video, upload it to Tik-Tok, and are now a content creator. There’s different degrees, but this shows how easily someone can become one. While that gives many deserving people an opportunity they normally would never have, it also gives some people too much of a voice. As Katherine Cross’ article about Logan Paul and social media’s moral compass shows, this problem affects every platform.

Their behavior is enabled by YouTube’s design as an effectively accountability-free platform, particularly for its most popular, envelope-pushing stars. There are rules and community guidelines about “disgusting” content and hate speech, of course, but they’re enforced haphazardly, often with little context or transparency, and can be easy to circumvent. It’s a problem that extends beyond YouTube as a platform to streaming and social media at large, where large platforms tiptoe around the sensibilities of loud, angry users at the expense of anyone they can sacrifice on their pyre of rage. It creates a situation where women, people of color, queer, and disabled people all lack equal access to the service, laboring under the added burden of an angry mob scrutinizing their every move, even when they’re not “famous” by any metric.

Social media platforms in general have done a poor job curbing this content, forcing content strategists to question their own ethics. The platforms keep the content up and promote it, so a strategist will feel like they have to use it. On the other hand, it feels gross to advertise content such as one’s making light of suicide victim, as well as setting a bad precedent for future content.

They can’t even use bad PR as a reason to not use this content in their strategy. The controversy surrounding Logan Paul was three years ago and today, Paul is still making content for millions of subscribers. The only punishment he got was a two-week pause on ad revenue. He’s been enveloped in even more controversies since then but since he makes them profit, YouTube won’t do much about him and they’re far from the only one. If you were Logan Paul’s content strategist, how would you justify not using his controversial content in your strategy?

What can we trust?

Unethical content has a few different types. In reference to Paul, his video was unethical due to that lack of sensitivity given towards suicide victims and for using someone else’s struggle for his own monetary gain. It was still all accurate, just in extremely poor taste. The other main type of unethical content is one based on inaccuracy. Fake news is a common example of this, though content such as deep fakes are an even bigger issue.

Deep fakes simply refer to the use of modern technologies to warp a video to have anyone they want over another person’s face. Obviously this is a very powerful thing, though we’ve only just started seeing what they can do. The main damage done so far is deep faking celebrity faces over porn stars, though it’s rapid growth is worrying. As Tom Simonite states in his article on deep fakes, some people can make them for stunningly low costs.

To make them, Tully needed only to gather a few hundred images of Hanks online and spend less than $100 to tune open-source face-generation software to his chosen subject. Armed with the tweaked software, he cranks out Hanks. Tully also used other open-source AI software to attempt to mimic the actor’s voice from three YouTube clips, with less impressive results.

As technology continues to grow, deep faking will become easier and less expensive. Eventually, we may even reach the point where anyone can make a deep fake, similar to how anybody can produce content now. At that point, we again will be forcing content strategists to question their own ethics. Obviously deep fakes are unethical, but for a content strategist, if a deep fake is the difference between a successful site and a bust, it puts them in an extremely difficult spot.

It goes beyond who’s involved with the content

We’ll always be dealing with unethical content. Yellow journalism, tabloids, and insensitive portrayals of minorities go back over 100 years. Some of this is due to the creators and strategists. While some mule over the decisions and don’t like promoting unethical content, there are also those who won’t care and simply do whatever it takes to get a head. Contently provides a good list of ethics similar to one journalists use, which would effectively curb some content.

Beyond those directly involved with the content, it’s also crucial for the platforms hosting this content to improve their ethics. As said previously, sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook have become misinformation paradises’, with very little done. Twitter has improved on that recently, such as how they labeled President Trump’s tweets about election fraud as misinformation, but there needs to be more. These platforms are a major part of modern society and with that comes a civic responsibility to promote ethics and truth, rather than sow discontent and dishonesty.

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© 2020 by Sean Keenan.