Shared controversy: 5 moments social networks really p!ss@d people off

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Socmedia has been causing a scene since inception. Brand wildfires, hacked elections, cyberbullying, frontline reporting; it’s all going off, but what about when the social networks themselves have caused anger and outrage?

As Facebook faces mounting pressure from child advocacy groups to shut down its Messenger Kids app, this social media agency it was a good opportunity to round up a few examples of when social media platforms have deeply divided opinion. Here we go then.

Weibo and the Wenzhou rail crash – 2011

Launched in 2009, Weibo is Twitter for China, because there is no Twitter in China due to the country’s extreme censorship. That’s controversial in itself, but when 40 people died and 192 were injured in a train crash near the city of Wenzhou, the realities of a social network that actively polices free speech became worryingly apparent.
Shanghai, China - May 11, 2013: Close-up view of social networking websites in China on computer screen including Renren, Tencent, Sina Microblog and Netease. These social networking sites are the most visited websites in China.
The accident had huge implications for the future of China’s high speed rail project, but Weibo attempted to whitewash sentiment surrounding the event. Tellingly, it proved too big an issue to silence— clocking up tens of millions of comments in the first week— but attempts to silence the public exposed the fine line media has to tread to stay on the right side of Beijing, calling into question Weibo’s overall approach.

Facebook bites the hands that feed – 2016 onwards

You could take your pick from an endless number of times Facebook has changed its algorithm to reduce organic reach, in a bid to pressure brands into spending more on advertising. 2016, though, was a watershed.
Krasnoyarsk, Russia - June 13, 2011: Facebook main webpage on Google Chrome browser on LCD screen
According to research by SocialFlow, the first half of that year saw publishers’ organic reach plummet by 52% following the decision by Mark Zuckerberg et al to prioritise personal, rather than professional, News Feed posts. This trend has continued— take a look at our January study of the difference since Facebook’s latest changes came into effect— making this a terminal example of a social network upsetting a huge user base.  

Facebook Messenger Kids launches – 2017

In another ‘what were they thinking’ situation, Facebook rolled out its Messenger Kids app last year, and was understandably met with a significant backlash. Designed for ages six to 12, it comes with child-friendly GIFs, no in-app purchases, and no adverts.
schoolboy using smartphone in cafe, city, street
None of which has made child advocacy groups feel more comfortable about the concept. Around the same time this went live, Facebook admitted that social media can be bad for users, citing ‘passive consumption’ as potentially causing mental health issues, while a former-executive at the firm was even more damning:
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.??? So not really child-friendly, then.

Snapchat redesign resentment – 2018

This year Snap Inc. managed to turn fans into enemies after making significant visual changes to the platform. The idea being to make the distinction between friends and brands clearer.
Bangkok, Thailand - April 22, 2017 : Apple iPhone5s in a mug showing its screen with Snapchat logo.
The response has been overwhelmingly negative, and it goes well beyond people voicing their criticisms. Market analysts at Citi bank and Raymond James have downgraded the company’s stock as a result— respectively from ‘neutral’ to ‘sell’ and ‘underperform’— highlighting just how badly the move has gone down. App Annie has also shown a huge spike in 1* reviews for the network; from 45% in December 2017 to 86% in February 2018.

Twitter’s populist purge – 2018

If you think Weibo’s approach to content control would never be repeated in Western democracies then think again. Or so say many right-wing Twitter users.
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This month #twitterlockout has been gaining traction after the network decided to try and shut down fake bot accounts in response to suggestions these impacted on both the US presidential election and the UK’s EU referendum results.
We’ve seen reports of human users losing between 3 and 30,000 followers in a single afternoon. Trusted news sources say this was a legitimate move that only targeted proven ‘non-existent fascists’, but the level of resentment currently evident online means we it had to make our list.