- Dec 2019
It would allow end users to determine their own tolerances for different types of speech but make it much easier for most people to avoid the most problematic speech, without silencing anyone entirely or having the platforms themselves make the decisions about who is allowed to speak.
But platforms are making huge decisions about who is allowed to speak. While they're generally allowing everyone to have a voice, they're also very subtly privileging many voices over others. While they're providing space for even the least among us to have a voice, they're making far too many of the worst and most powerful among us logarithmic-ally louder.
It's not broadly obvious, but their algorithms are plainly handing massive megaphones to people who society broadly thinks shouldn't have a voice at all. These megaphones come in the algorithmic amplification of fringe ideas which accelerate them into the broader public discourse toward the aim of these platforms getting more engagement and therefore more eyeballs for their advertising and surveillance capitalism ends.
The issue we ought to be looking at is the dynamic range between people and the messages they're able to send through social platforms.
We could also analogize this to the voting situation in the United States. When we disadvantage the poor, disabled, differently abled, or marginalized people from voting while simultaneously giving the uber-rich outsized influence because of what they're able to buy, we're imposing the same sorts of problems. Social media is just able to do this at an even larger scale and magnify the effects to make their harms more obvious.
If I follow 5,000 people on social media and one of them is a racist-policy-supporting, white nationalist president, those messages will get drowned out because I can only consume so much content. But when the algorithm consistently pushes that content to the top of my feed and attention, it is only going to accelerate it and create more harm. If I get a linear presentation of the content, then I'd have to actively search that content out for it to cause me that sort of harm.
Meanwhile, politicians from the two major political parties have been hammering these companies, albeit for completely different reasons. Some have been complaining about how these platforms have potentially allowed for foreign interference in our elections.3 3. A Conversation with Mark Warner: Russia, Facebook and the Trump Campaign, Radio IQ|WVTF Music (Apr. 6, 2018), https://www.wvtf.org/post/conversation-mark-warner-russia-facebook-and-trump-campaign#stream/0 (statement of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.): “I first called out Facebook and some of the social media platforms in December of 2016. For the first six months, the companies just kind of blew off these allegations, but these proved to be true; that Russia used their social media platforms with fake accounts to spread false information, they paid for political advertising on their platforms. Facebook says those tactics are no longer allowed—that they've kicked this firm off their site, but I think they've got a lot of explaining to do.”). Others have complained about how they’ve been used to spread disinformation and propaganda.4 4. Nicholas Confessore & Matthew Rosenberg, Facebook Fallout Ruptures Democrats’ Longtime Alliance with Silicon Valley, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/17/technology/facebook-democrats-congress.html (referencing statement by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.): “Mr. Tester, the departing chief of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, looked at social media companies like Facebook and saw propaganda platforms that could cost his party the 2018 elections, according to two congressional aides. If Russian agents mounted a disinformation campaign like the one that had just helped elect Mr. Trump, he told Mr. Schumer, ‘we will lose every seat.’”). Some have charged that the platforms are just too powerful.5 5. Julia Carrie Wong, #Breaking Up Big Tech: Elizabeth Warren Says Facebook Just Proved Her Point, The Guardian (Mar. 11, 2019), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/11/elizabeth-warren-facebook-ads-break-up-big-tech (statement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)) (“Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let's start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor. #BreakUpBigTech.”). Others have called attention to inappropriate account and content takedowns,6 6. Jessica Guynn, Ted Cruz Threatens to Regulate Facebook, Google and Twitter Over Charges of Anti-Conservative Bias, USA Today (Apr. 10, 2019), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/04/10/ted-cruz-threatens-regulate-facebook-twitter-over-alleged-bias/3423095002/ (statement of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)) (“What makes the threat of political censorship so problematic is the lack of transparency, the invisibility, the ability for a handful of giant tech companies to decide if a particular speaker is disfavored.”). while some have argued that the attempts to moderate discriminate against certain political viewpoints.
Most of these problems can all fall under the subheading of the problems that result when social media platforms algorithmically push or accelerate content on their platforms. An individual with an extreme view can publish a piece of vile or disruptive content and because it's inflammatory the silos promote it which provides even more eyeballs and the acceleration becomes a positive feedback loop. As a result the social silo benefits from engagement for advertising purposes, but the community and the commons are irreparably harmed.
If this one piece were removed, then the commons would be much healthier, fringe ideas and abuse that are abhorrent to most would be removed, and the broader democratic views of the "masses" (good or bad) would prevail. Without the algorithmic push of fringe ideas, that sort of content would be marginalized in the same way we want our inane content like this morning's coffee or today's lunch marginalized.
To analogize it, we've provided social media machine guns to the most vile and fringe members of our society and the social platforms are helping them drag the rest of us down.
If all ideas and content were provided the same linear, non-promotion we would all be much better off, and we wouldn't have the need for as much human curation.
- Jul 2019
Another solution might be to limit on the number of times a tweet can be retweeted.
This isn't too dissimilar to an idea I've been mulling over and which Robin Sloan wrote about on the same day this story was released: https://platforms.fyi/