2017 was a year spent arguing over Facebook and Google’s role in spreading propaganda and disinformation, aka “fake news.” As the scope of the problem has become clearer, and as action is taken, one of the arguments becomes whether or not the two have done enough. A group of former employees of Facebook and Google, coming together as the Center For Humane Technology, believes that there’s far, far more to be done, and they are rallying to force their former employers to look harder at themselves and their actions.
The team is impressive, including former major executives and even the inventor of the Like button. Their goal, at first, is simply to get Silicon Valley to acknowledge that perhaps its Utopian view of the future needs to be tempered with more practical concerns:
Its first project to reform the industry will be to introduce a Ledger of Harms — a website aimed at guiding rank-and-file engineers who are concerned about what they are being asked to build. The site will include data on the health effects of different technologies and ways to make products that are healthier.
Certainly, Silicon Valley could stand to face up to the ugly side of its relentless optimism more often, and the Center is helping lobby for a useful bill that would force any “bot,” that is, an automated program, from being used without clear identification of who programmed it. But other aspects are a bit more questionable: The article keeps talking about the psychology and neurology of social media as if it’s settled science, when in reality it’s anything but.
Yes, for adults, social media can absolutely be bad for you, but that appears to depend heavily on how you use it. And it’s hard to argue that kids should be on Facebook, whether you see it as a goofy fun site or as an extension of your emotional space. Whether it ultimately turns out to be toxic or harmless, who wants to risk exposing kids to, say, the F***Jerry meme?
But for adults, we need to remember that nobody makes us start a social media profile, or share a single link or photo on it. To some degree, if we act like we have no agency, we’re passing the buck. Our minds aren’t being controlled. Our natures are being appealed to, and Facebook and Google can make doing the wrong thing, or just an unwise thing, as easy as possible. But it’s our fingers doing the clicking, and we have a piece of where we are too.
(via New York Times)