Social Media-Pushing Buttons with Impunity

Time June 15, 2020 pp20-21 The View Technology “Facebook cannot fix itself” by Roger McNamee. “McName, the author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.


Because creating drama increases “views” big Social Media use algorithms that trigger user’s “hot buttons”. The incentive is simple, more views more advertising money. Due to reach and influence of SM, the democracy of ideas is being diminished in at least two ways. First, merit-based content developed with journalistic standards is not really a feature of SM. Second, given the low cost of SM advertising, traditional publications of local, national and world news are increasingly unable to stay in business online or otherwise. More than ever, as a reader, it is difficult to identify what is likely true and what is deliberate misinformation.

Facts presented in the "Time" article.

“150M…Facebook and Instagram users who may have encountered Russian disinformation content on their feeds during the 2016 election”.

“70%...False claims were this much more likely than truth to be shared on Twitter according to an MIT study”.

“500 Number of suspected bots responsible for 22% of tweeted links to new sites while 500 real accounts generated 6% of tweets linking to the same outlets according to Pew”.


The net effect of the current SM milieu is that small and extreme groups pushing white supremacy, climate-change denial and antivax get huge and unwarranted distribution. This disproportionate broadcasting of their extreme point-of-view and often frank misinformation is a direct effect of the SM "Optimizing for Engagement" algorithms. Additionally, these misinformation campaigns influence many others indirectly by targeting a network of likeminded groups.

SM is making some effort to restrict absolutely nefarious content. Big SM depends on artificial intelligence, hired moderators and even users to help identify obviously harmful, threatening or graphic content. It is harder to screen out more nuanced misinformation and there is evidence of unequal policing and restricting of such content. Many ordinary citizen users have been warned, temporarily or permanently blocked but other more prominent individuals including the current POTUS have been allowed to violate SM terms of use agreements (TOUA). Twitter has only now issued warnings to POTUS regarding posts that violated TOUA but Facebook refuses to do so. Meanwhile, in typical fashion, POTUS has responded by issuing an Executive Order that “would enable government oversight of political speech on Internet platforms”. POTUS “claims to promote freedom of speech [but it would] actually crush it”. POTUS claims that SM is “biased against conservative voices” but while there is plenty of tangible data readily available one cannot substantiate the claim of SM being "biased against conservative voices".

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, SM are protected from liability. So there is no incentive to "get it right". Using COVID-19 as an example. Politically motivated misinformation, contrary to established medical practice based in fact, about social distancing and wearing protective mask obviously puts the population at risk.

The lack of journalistic standards must be addressed.

So, what to do?

1) Realign SM incentives by removing liability protections from SM using “Optimizing for engagement” algorithms. As such SM would be liable for harms caused.

2) “…give users the right to sue for damages if they have been harmed as a result of using an Internet platform.

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