Friday, July 30

How to stop the radicalization machine

> Michelle Obama was referring to the unprecedented decision taken by Twitter and Facebook to suspend Trump’s accounts, with 90 million followers on the first social network and 35 million on the second. A temporary suspension in the case of Twitter, of 12 hours, and indefinitely in the case of Facebook, although later its president, Mark Zuckerberg, clarified that the veto could be lifted in twelve days, when the transition to the Biden administration would have been completed. completed.

1. The real problem

However, despite the fact that the Democrats and the digital platforms themselves point to Trump, the real problem is not the orange president. The real problem, the one that is destroying the foundations of coexistence on a planetary level, is that the gigantic business of Facebook, Twitter or Google is precisely based on the polarization of opinions, on the promotion of tribal thinking and disconnected from rationality ; a dangerous crop that ends up materializing in the real world in incidents like the ones in Washington this week.

Because our anger is extraordinarily profitable. And that’s how it transforms: as Soshanna Zuboff argues in her essential essay “The era of surveillance capitalism”, the real business of Silicon Valley multinationals is not, far from it, making social networks available to us so that we can exchange little hearts , likes or memes. That is the cover, the bait so that we are connected for as long as possible and the massive extraction of our behavior data does not stop. An expropriation of our privacy that is then offered as a product to the real clients – other companies or political parties / movements – who pay millions for having infallible predictions of our availability to consume. Thanks to the mountain of data that we provide voluntarily and innocently, Facebook and Google are assuring their customers that the precise advertisement will always reach us on mobile phones at the right time and that, without a doubt, we will acquire what they offer us. They know it because they know us better than we do. They predict us.

For this big business to keep growing even more – they are the most capitalized companies on Wall Street – they have to be faithful to that “extractive imperative” of our data. And it turns out that the controversial, radicalized content, Trumpist thinking, in short, makes us flock like flies to honey.

2. Better to quit

Last November, “The New York Times” published how Facebook had handled a discovery that alarmed its employees: that disinformation related to Trump’s lies about an electoral “blow” was going viral on its social network in the US The people in charge of Zuckerberg’s company proposed to change the algorithm that ordered the news that users received, in such a way that the trolls of “hyperpartisan” web pages were relegated in favor of those offered by traditional media such as CNN. the national public radio (NPR) or “The New York Times”.

Many employees, according to this latest newspaper, breathed a sigh of relief. At last they were facing a “calmer and less divisive” Facebook. They did not work for the Evil One. That was supposed to be Zuckerberg’s vaunted goal: to make a better world. Also, following this same line · “idealist”, they did another experiment. They trained an algorithm to identify information that could be “bad for the world” (radical propaganda, hate speech, etc.) and to show it less to users. But what happened then? That people went less to Facebook. And fewer users spending less time on the networks means having less data, which means having less income. And that if not. So, as published by “The New York Times”, Zuckerberg’s company shelved idealism with these lines loaded with aseptic cynicism in an internal report: “The results were good, except that they led to a decrease in sessions, which motivated us to take a different approach ”. For all that has been said, the problem is not just Trump.

3. Get paid

Says someone like Roger McNamee, one of the most relevant “regrets” in Silicon Valley. He was an early investor in Facebook and an advisor to Zuckerberg. He wrote this a few days ago in the tech magazine “Wired”: “In their relentless quest for participation and profit, these platforms created algorithms that amplify hate speech, misinformation and conspiracy theories. This harmful content is particularly attractive and serves as a lubricant for businesses as profitable as they are influential. The article was titled “Technological platforms must pay for their role in the insurrection,” Mac Namee stressed that the commercial logic of social networks had not only found its white blackbird in an outrageous tweeter like Donald Trump, it also went viral. what is related to the deniers of vaccines and covid or the slogans of the defenders of white supremacy. The people always ready to add fuel to the fire are the best to keep the boilers devouring private data that we all contribute with each click to the red hot. Because the important thing, as the topic unwittingly reveals, is that “the networks burn.”

4. It is not censorship

In his article, McNamee believes that the US government is already taking too long to address a regulation of digital platforms. Stopping the spread of conspiracy theories, hate speech or misinformation does not, he insists, limit freedom of expression. It is about eradicating the seeds of violent acts like the ones this week in Washington. A regulation of the “algorithmic amplification of extreme content” is essential, he insists. This former Zuckerberg adviser cites an own investigation by Facebook in which the company found that 64% of people who joined an open extremist group on the social network did so because the platform recommended it to them. “Facebook has also recognized that the pages and groups associated with QAnon extremism (one of the most delusional theories of the American extreme right) had at least 3 million members, which means that Facebook helped radicalize 2 million of people, ”McNamee concludes.

5. Fundamentalists of freedom of expression

If the anger of the Democrats against technology finally forges into regulation, the great nightmare of these Silicon Valley giants will begin to come true, who have always exhibited a “fundamentalism of freedom of expression” to evade any government control. Its great legal support in this area has so far been section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, created in 1996, at the dawn of the digital age. This section exempts them from any responsibility for the content published on their platforms, contrary to what happens with traditional media. Tech companies argue that holding them responsible for spreading obscene content, for example, would be like blaming the New York Public Library for having “Lolita” on its shelves, using an image that Soshanna Zuboff uses in her book. As Zuboff explains, this law was the daughter of the fledgling of those times: it was intended to encourage companies to exercise certain control over content without exposing themselves to continuous legal sanctions.

6. That’s why they vetoed Trump

But now the situation has changed. Platforms are not at all as neutral as a library. They are actively engaged in exploiting the content so that users come to them and, when they connect, continue to provide data that will later be transformed into targeted advertising and, finally, many millions in benefits. “They no longer limit themselves to hosting content, but unilaterally, aggressively and secretly extract a value from that content,” insists Zuboff. That is why “they only intervene to moderate those extremes that, because they repel users or because they attract the scrutiny of a regulator, can threaten the volume and speed of obtaining” of our personal data, adds this American expert. For this reason, most likely, Facebook and Twitter vetoed Trump, whom until then they had not only let loose, claiming an uncompromising defense of freedom of expression, but their algorithms had also contributed to unite and cheer his radical followers . Taking Mr. Orange’s torch away from his cell phone was a good attempt to divert the gaze from the devastating social effects that the great digital business of this 21st century is already causing.

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