Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Tinbergen, writing for the Washington Post have applauded the social media platforms’ recent efforts to reign in “hate speech, misinformation and posts that potentially incite violence.” These posts were coming from the US president and many of his supporters. When asked what I thought of this step forward, here is what I told them:
“A lot of what has been previously thought of as fringe behavior has been brought to center stage by these platforms. They’ve been complicit for a very long time. You can ban a few people — even the president — but on platforms that have a billion people, there are so many dark corners. And instead of coming up with a solution for the entire network, they are banning individuals.”The Washington Post (Subscription Required.)
I have been screaming in the wind for a long time — and will say this again. The incentives to undertake real change aren’t there for these platforms. Most of them will have to retweak and re-imagine their algorithms. They won’t do that because, in doing so, they will have to move away from the current model of monetizing attention and engagement from advertising.
It will undermine how they make money, and thus there is no upside for anyone — including Facebook to Twitter to YouTube. So what do they do? They do the equivalent of re-arranging the chairs on the deck of a listing ship. People applaud them for doing something. They get some good publicity. And soon enough, the world moves on to another outrage.