Facebook provides a product that offers interaction, information and news consumed by 3 billion people. That’s why it’s so important that critics, lawmakers and regulators have accused the company of using algorithms that, to fuel traffic and maximize profits, promote radical, hateful and, in many cases, fake content.
Facebook President Mark Zuckerberg flatly rejects these accusations, but governments around the world are beginning to recognize the scale of the problem they pose.
Let’s be clear, Facebook isn’t resisting calls for new rules. He doesn’t want to take direct responsibility for safeguarding democracy. You want to make money and keep your competitive edge. Its leaders do not seek to build algorithms that polarize the public. Their goal is to make the company grow, fostering user engagement.
Facebook executives say they want the government to set new rules that apply across the internet and all social media — rules that govern how they should work, what information they should post and what they shouldn’t. They want these rules to be applied equally to all companies.
But Facebook executives are calling for these changes in part because they have little fear that the changes will actually happen. Politicians are unlikely to effectively change the way Facebook operates, as they do not agree on the nature of the problem, let alone what to do about it.
In Washington, right-wing political officials insist that Facebook has caved in to pressure for so-called “political correction,” a form of censorship imposed by the left. They warn that frank discussion of serious political and social problems often falls outside the confines of what is seen as socially acceptable discourse. They point to Donald Trump, who was “de-platformed” by the company earlier this year, to argue that the right is silenced far more often than the left.
Meanwhile, left-wing politicians say the real problem is that Facebook has excessive influence and market power — and that it promotes disinformation invented by the right in order, for example, to substantiate the false accusation that the US presidential election victory it would have been “stolen” from Trump. They warn that Facebook’s algorithms are making a politically tribal country even more tribalized. If left and right cannot agree on what the problem is, they will not agree on the actions to be taken.
This story also has a geopolitical aspect. US and Chinese leaders increasingly believe they are fighting for future technological hegemony. The US primarily depends on private sector innovators in Silicon Valley and beyond to retain an advantage in the development of artificial intelligence.
China uses state power to concentrate money and other resources on a more centralized technology development strategy. If US regulators have taken actions that weaken tech giants like Facebook — this at a time when China is harvesting and processing the data produced by 1.3 billion people, with little regard for their personal privacy — then lawmakers will be undermining US national security and the online values they claim to uphold.
There are commonsense solutions that can be followed to stop Facebook from breaking up partnerships without fragmenting the company or critically weakening it in other ways. First, ban political advertising. This would minimize the spread of political disinformation and raise the level of discourse.
China, land in the middle
Second, altering algorithms to further reduce the importance of domestic politics on the site. Thirdly, as is done on the LinkedIn site, verifying that each user was proven to be a real person. Do not allow anonymous accounts or bots. Obliging each user to sign a statement agreeing to abide by the rules against hate speech and disinformation and then use verification to prevent users who have violated the rules and been banned from the site from re-subscribing to it under a new name .
These would be some modest first steps to face the challenges posed not just by Facebook, but by digital technology in various forms, more generally.
The best strategy that regulators and the public can adopt is to open a global discussion about how to adapt to a world in which technology companies wield more and more power in the digital spaces they occupy.
World leaders have been meeting annually since the mid-1990s to discuss what to do about climate change. As is the case with rising sea levels and increasingly erratic weather patterns, we need to act now to limit the harm that information technology companies can do to democracy and society.
But we also have to adapt to a world in which some transformation is already inevitable. It’s an urgent priority because technology-driven changes to the way we live, receive information, and understand the world are coming much faster than global warming.
Translation by Clara Allain
PRESENT LINK: Did you like this text? Subscriber can release five free hits of any link per day. Just click on the blue F below.