A Grin at the End: Algorithm monster – Pushing us to the edge on purpose

November 2021 Posted in Other

carl sampson

For six hours last month we were all safe. Safe from misinformation, safe from ads targeted at us. Safe from posts that were only there because someone paid for them.

Facebook and Instagram were offline.

How this happened is anyone’s guess. Facebook said the “configuration” got out of whack. That is IT talk for “I don’t know.” Someone at headquarters probably hit the wrong button.

But it was a time to celebrate the absence of abuses Facebook imposes on our nation and nations around the world. It was a time when, if someone wanted to say something, they could pick up a phone or send an email or – the horror! – write a letter. We were free from the cock fights that “social media” such as Facebook and Instagram have created.

Last month was also notable for a series of stories that ran in the Wall Street Journal and for a hearing held on Capitol Hill. What those stories and that hearing revealed was how Facebook writes algorithms that amp up conflict between us. It electronically pokes us with a stick that makes us want to attack those who disagree with us.

That, in my mind, is morally and ethically bankrupt. Humankind has been around for many millennia without Facebook. By fits and starts, we have figured out how to get along. Barring that, we have figured out that we have to get along. This planet is just too small for pettiness such as Facebook.

What those stories and the congressional hearings also showed was that Facebook invariably put profits before people. They specifically look for ways to get Facebook users fired up and threw more “red meat” at them in a way that fed the fury.

Then there’s the money. It turns out that if you have a lot of money, Facebook will let you say anything. Need to tilt an election? Facebook will even send people to your office to help. All it takes is money.

I’m not naive. I went to high school right outside Philadelphia, where the political truism “Money talks and BS walks” was invented. I know that money will get you a lot of things in this world. But I didn’t know it bought you freedom of speech.

While others are stuck posting photos of their grandchildren and pithy sayings about this and that, Facebook opens its portals to the rich.

Further, Facebook cannot by law be held “responsible for anything it publishes.” That is astonishing, and Congress should strike down that law immediately.

Here’s how it works – for Facebook – and doesn’t work for you.

In mass media such as television, radio and newspapers – remember them? – the owners are held responsible for anything that is broadcast or printed. Under libel law, if someone suffers harm because of a factually incorrect article, he or she could seek a correction or retraction and compensation. A narrow group of people who are public figures – politicians, for example – had to not only prove that an article was wrong but that the publisher knew it was wrong.

Facebook and social media get a pass on the nation’s libel laws. A Facebook post can say just about anything, and the victim cannot do anything about it. I just saw a post this morning that claimed World War III was starting. If you’re reading this column, that post was wrong.

Facebook is a deal with the devil and has allowed public discourse to mutate into its ugliest version.

And that’s why I think Facebook should be held to the same standards as any other publishers and be held accountable for the crapola it publishes.

Carl Sampson is a freelance editor and writer. He lives in Stayton.

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