Without serious attention to cybersecurity by developers and platform founders, the emerging world of social media networks will turn into a Blade Runner’s nightmare, fogged by disinformation and controlled by influential interest groups.
The global social media market, currently valued at more than $230 billion, is expected to expand to almost $435 billion by 2027. With AR and metaverse on the Big Tech agenda, we might soon find ourselves in an atmospheric sci-fi version of Blade Runner. Can we avoid the worst-case scenario?
Probably not, unless we take cybersecurity seriously. Social media attacks are now frequent and large in scale. Just within a three-month period in 2022, almost one-fifth of Americans had their social media accounts hacked, according to Deloitte.
This year, details of more than 200 million Twitter accounts, including email addresses and phone numbers, were leaked. Among the victims were U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, pop singer Shawn Mendes, and Australia’s ex-prime minister Scott Morrison.
Another recent case involved a hacker who, after taking over multiple Instagram accounts, demanded female influencers to either pay him or strip naked on a video call in order to regain access. And, during one of the Facebook breaches, over 533 million users from 106 counties had their data exposed.
Blackmailing, bullying on social media, and deep fakes are major problems on existing platforms. What can we, as new network founders and developers, learn from this?
Build a network with growth in mind. Recent breaches show that the platforms’ vulnerabilities probably have been overlooked at the development stage. Existing social media networks haven’t realized their own potential, so growth became a problem. This is a lesson for all founders and developers. We shouldn’t repeat these mistakes while developing new social media. Cybersecurity, with exponential growth in mind, should be our top priority.
Update security policy regularly. Many victims of Instagram hacks haven’t been able to recover access: the network’s security policy only allowed them to do so by email or phone number. Nowadays, hackers simply change these details. The victims’ emails and phone numbers were no longer associated with the accounts. This problem could be solved easily if security policies allowed access recovery with a selfie and a government ID.
Think mobile first. A seamless mobile access recovery procedure is also important. There are currently 6.8 billion smartphone users worldwide. With the global population at 8 billion, smartphone users reached 80% and, according to forecasts, will grow further to 7.5 billion by 2026.
A social media network shouldn’t allow access recovery exclusively by email or a phone number. Smartphones can be hacked wherever users are on public WiFi. Many platforms now use a code generator during the authorization process. This helps improve security although it doesn’t protect users from social engineering.
Build tools to prevent fake news, posts, and messages. The biggest problem is fake news, as well as posts and messages from numerous accounts that seek to manipulate public opinion. In the West, they are blamed for influencing elections, while in the developing world they can kill people. A few years ago in India fake or photoshopped messages showing a child’s mutilated body were spread on WhatsApp in order to incite mobs to violence. About two dozen people across the country were lynched: the attackers blamed them for murders that never happened.
Meta says over 35,000 of its global employees work on identifying and deleting more than 5 billion fake and cloned profiles annually. But these are enormous costs for business. We need to develop better and more affordable AI-based solutions to deal with fake accounts, posts and messages. They try to fuel tension and destabilize our society. And, in the future, when social media networks merge with the real world, this problem could escalate.
What’s next for social media? Meta and Twitter are now trying to improve security by integrating Meta Verified. This new subscription based service, now being tested in Australia and New Zealand, offers additional verification and customer service for a fee. This, however, means shifting security costs onto users, who are already unhappy with how social media monopolies operate.
Eventually, people will be leaving and joining new platforms. Gen Z is already migrating from the bigger social networks, such as Facebook, to smaller communities. This provides an opportunity for creators of new networks to succeed by providing better security to their users.