WE NEED A NEW WAY TO DO SOCIAL MEDIA
Most of us have now heard about some of the controversy around Facebook and its influence on what we read, how we think and how we live.
There’s a kind of vague idea that the automation of curated newsfeeds produces confusion and hidden results that could be harmful to our social fabric.
But in recent months, more pundits have begun appearing on news media, arguing for a more human touch.
The argument, as it is often put forth, is that Facebook should invest more in people.
There would be two major benefits to this approach – first, Facebook would show that human moderators can have an impact on the flood of toxic content and potentially false news proliferating on the social media platform.
But secondly, Facebook would also then get credit for creating jobs – job creation is the shrine that we worship at in this country, and just by adding thousands more human moderators, Facebook would get instant applause.
So the question is, why hasn’t Facebook done this? Why does it still try to rely on algorithms, rather than adding more human moderators into the mix?
We believe that it’s because Facebook simply doesn’t have that as part of its mission. Regardless of what the company says, we know that Facebook is unlikely to do anything major to stem the tide of negative disinformation that’s flying around on its digital pages.
In fact, don’t take our word for it: you can also read reports from the people that Facebook hired to do a lot of its human moderator work, and some of the most prominent ones cast quite a lot of shade Facebook’s way.
“I strongly believe that they are spreading fake news on behalf of hostile foreign powers and authoritarian governments as part of their business model,” ex-Snopes editor Brooke Binkowski told Rappler late last year, describing efforts she sees a a fig leaf to try to burnish the giant’s reputation by having a skeleton staff try to push back the tidal waters of “fake news” proliferating across the platform.
Earlier this month, Binkowski has elaborated on these thoughts, telling Buzzfeed that the contracted work of her teams to handle Facebook misinformation issues was “like a doomed game of Whack-a-Mole.”
“When they first emailed me about a potential partnership, I knew it would bring much more attention to the work of our small newsroom — and much more scrutiny.” Binkowski writes, describing how Facebook approached her in 2016 asking for help. “But what I didn’t realize was that we were entering a full-blown crisis, not just of ‘fake news,’ but of journalism, democracy, and the nature of reality itself — one we’re all still trying to sort out in 2019, and which had more twists and turns than I’d ever thought possible. Looking back, my overwhelming impression of the years since 2016 is how surreal everything became. “
Trying to manage the tide of Facebook trash, she suggested, was no small job, and in hindsight, she argued, Facebook under-invested in human labor.
“We tried to make it easier by showing where disinformation would originate, but there were just too many stories. Trying to stem the tsunami of hoaxes, scams, and outright fake stories was like playing the world’s most doomed game of whack-a-mole, or like battling the Hydra of Greek myth. Every time we cut off a virtual head, two more would grow in its place. My excellent but exhausted and overworked team did as much as we could, but soon felt like we were floating around in a beat-up old skiff, trying to bail out the ocean with a leaky bucket.”
All of this underscores the essential question, again: if Facebook could have created a more human approach, why didn’t they?
The problem is that Facebook has become a media monopoly.
You can look back to the Hearst newspaper days or even further back to understand what happens when elites have a handle on one monolithic media culture. It’s not good.
If you want more symptoms of this colossal problem, just take a look at Robert McNamee, who is now making the rounds with his book, “Zucked,” that talks about the hidden dangers of relying on Facebook (and other technologies) too much.
“A dystopian technology future overran our lives before we were ready,” McNamee wrote in a widely circulated opinion piece that outlines some of his fears and concerns. “As a result, we now face issues for which there are no easy answers without much time to act. We embraced the smartphone as a body part without understanding that there would be a downside. We trusted internet platforms to be benign. We reacted too slowly to warning signs…”
Citing Postman’s Amused to Death, McNamee is making the rounds like an Old Testament prophet, warning us that Facebook’s unchecked power is indeed dangerous.
Again, the monopoly is part of what makes this dangerous. Back in the day when MySpace and other platforms were evolving, there was never the phenomenon of one platform gaining all of the traffic.
Look further back at the old-school bulletin boards that people used to use to communicate on social media before the Internet was really matured.
That model was infinitely better – because it was decentralized. Local sysops handled traffic through primitive packet trajectories. People who were posting on a bulletin board usually had some familial, social or geographical connection to the people they were talking to.
Facebook as a symbol of our being “amused to death” is part of the technologically-driven derangement that is cratering our society. In a way, we simply have too much choice. We have infinite choices in what to post, what to look at, how to behave – but only in that one walled garden of the Facebook environment.
What we need is a diverse set of social media tools that people can pick and choose from at will. And we’re not talking about Twitter, where the whole point of the platform was to dumb down discourse by restricting posts to a certain number of characters! Just look at how corrosive Twitter has become!
We need new revolutionary social media platforms that speak for the people. Like those old bulletin boards of by-gone days, these platforms are likely to start small and decentralized. They won’t look like Facebook at all in terms of their build or their structure or how they’re administrated. But they will be grassroots, local, organic ways to network with human beings over the computer, without signing your soul over to a mega-corporation that’s been known to misuse private data.
Go to the budding Family Farmer Market site, and check out what we have built to start this process of building a decentralized Internet. This is a good time to get in on the ground floor while the site is still being built out, because some of these types of networking tools just might end up being a big part of “Web 3.0.” Meanwhile, cryptocurrencies and other decentralized digital technologies are making a comeback. Check it out and participate
in something that you can trust – a newly emerging social media platform untainted by the sins of Mark Zuckerberg.