Facebook has fierce critics on the left and the right and is struggling to preserve its business model. Brian Walker has this Perspective.
So, Frances Haugen caught Facebook with their pants down. It's hardly surprising that they would optimize their algorithms to keep people as engaged as possible to keep feeding them ads. We consume ads and in return, we use the platform for free.
The problem of course is that, just like with local TV news, outrage and fear are what gets people’s attention best and Facebook’s algorithms are designed to serve up more of whatever people react to, which amplifies that outrage and fear to global proportions. But it’s free speech and we pride ourselves on that.
Facebook claims that they cannot possibly moderate content to keep out misleading or incendiary posts, that they cannot police their platform, that the best they can do is to use algorithms that look for keywords in people’s posts, but it’s a primitive tool and I’d guess that it’s not very effective.
There are 2.89 billion people using Facebook. A simple meme can spread like wildfire, growing exponentially in a matter of minutes. Swaying public opinion has never been easier and it’s lucrative for the company too. But of course, we have to preserve free speech, right?
Recently, YouTube announced that it will ban anti-vax conspiracy videos. They’re admitting that they are complicit in spreading misinformation and that they have a responsibility to stop it. That’s a big deal. They’re acknowledging that they can’t let people post whatever they feel like – that someone must step in and make that judgment call, in this case, that spreading misinformation will lead to infection and for some, death. Social media platforms have avoided that kind of responsibility like the plague, but they should have known that by building global platforms, sooner or later they’ll have the responsibility to moderate it.
Now, Facebook is under more scrutiny than ever, and like it or not, they’re going to have to make changes. I doubt Congress will intervene. After all, they use the platform to great advantage to spread their own messages, so any meaningful change is going to have to come from the users and from the investors. It may be their platform but it’s our content.
It’s time for Facebook to take a stance on what the platform is supposed to be for. Is it our community where we make meaningful connections or is it a place where we are fed whatever garbage advertisers pay for?
With a Perspective, I’m Brian Walker.
Brian Walker is an audio engineer and musician who lives in the East Bay and works with Silicon Valley companies to develop state-of-the-art speech for personal voice assistants.