Who died and made these men kings?
I was wondering about the "heckler's veto" and "information glut" -- and that maybe part of the problem is the actual velocity of discourse, that maybe we need a way to "slow down" and add some "friction" in the social media realm. The analogy I'm thinking of is with respect to high frequency trading (HFT) on Wall Street -- firms were literally buying space closer to the NYSE servers so that they could shave microseconds off their "latency" and increase their profits in a way that has no economic rationale once or ever, and that adds to market volatility. In finance, even a minuscule financial transaction tax would reduce HFT substantially... Is there some way to add some type of "virality tax" that could at a sort of circuit-breaker to the (destructive) business model for social media? Would that help?
What grounds are there to believe that the American public, working at the federal level, can in fact make better decisions than the tech executives on these questions-- which as you say are hard questions, new to most people and requiring unusual domain knowledge? The pitfalls of leaving things to Mark Zuckerberg are apparent and you're right to call them out. But "getting our act together as a society" may not actually be a feasible alternative in this case, and without that, the decisions political leaders would make on these issues and the laws they would pass are likely to be even worse than unaccountable Zuckerbergian rule.
Rational civic deliberation on novel, nuanced issues like these happens at the municipal level in the US sometimes-- perhaps occasionally even at the state level. It happens at the national level in other countries much smaller and less polarized than ours. There is no reason to believe that it can be made to happen anytime soon at the US federal level, regardless of the results of the next few elections. Given that reality, for all the real problems of leaving referee authority with tech executives, I'm inclined to believe it is the least bad alternative on offer.
as for "no new ads" embargo (on Facebook, we match 89% of DEM and 92% of REP voters - so, this platform is ludicrously influential) -- there are so many shenanigans one can play with ads discouraging turnout, that I think the public good is served by not allowing any ads. FB will also turn ALL paid political ads off on Nov 4th. I think they're projecting post-election interference there. Ads announcing wins, inaugurations, ballot shenanigans. Thank you for saying -- we need to tell the legislators what to do with this stuff. You average pol (my clients) ... they barely understand the difference between an email and a text message. I'm not joking. We must do better. Thank you for this piece.
Some people enjoy our lucha libre political spectacle for its comic aspects, and some, like Nate Silver, enjoy it because a contest — any contest— interests them more than what’s actually being contested. Others, like Mitch McConnell, enjoy it because they specialize in profiting from chaos and misdirection. The rest of us, despite being deafened by the present din and idiocy, know full well that if apocalypse is coming, we’re gonna have to handle it ourselves.
Excellent statement of the problem. I understand our propensity to rush to possible answers, but I think our current situation is a complex predicament, not a complicated problem, and there will therefore be no simple answers. This is why I think we need to start having deep, probing conversations with a cross-section of informed and diverse people if we hope to surface and evolve approaches that will do more than paper over the predicament until it pops out somewhere else. I've suggested the approaches of David Bohm and Daniel Schmachtenberger for such conversations, and IMO the sooner we start the better. The concept of Citizens' Assemblies, being touted by XR and others, are also along this line. Zeynep, your idea of making these giants into ad-free public utilities owned cooperatively by $20/year subscribers is a fascinating idea, and such an assembly might start by probing if/how that might work, and come to be.
What do you make of the House report's allegations of meaningful and traditional monopolistic activities (eg buying potential competitors and scuttling them)? It feels like that's a valid piece of the puzzle, although I'm not super convinced that would actually fix the issue.
I do think that a lot of public outrage about disinfo campaigns tries too hard to be "nonpartisan", completely ignoring that the platforms allow it because of threats from conservative legislators. From what I've read elsewhere, as a % of profits political ads aren't terribly consequential.
Have you seen Mike Masnick's article from August 2019, published on knightcolumbia.org, called "Protocols not Platforms"? I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
To go back to one of Zeynep's original points, I agree about the debates. My English in-laws were surprised when they were visiting once during the early Obama years and I wasn't interested in watching a debate (or it might have been a State of the Union). These have been stages for aimless talking points for so long it seems pointless to spend the time. It took my spouse a while longer to agree, though he still wants to watch the debates (this is also his first presidential election as a citizen, so he might have more of a vested interest now). It seems such a core problem to get people running for office to talk honestly about what they can or will do and why in a way that has any meaning.
An idea to try to fix YouTube/Facbook/Twitter is to change the law so that if an online platform promotes any content, and that content is paid for (ads, or paid for by the producer but not the publisher in any other way), then the platform takes 100% responsibility for that content. They can be sued for copyright infringement, slander, etc. and there would be no DMCA safe harbor. The idea is the RIAA/MPAA will enforce the rule for us, since copyright infringement is so expensive. Facebook would then be able to have ads around content which they moderate, and the crazy stuff wouldn't have ads (and so wouldn't be promoted). Promoting content would be any sort of non-public prioritization (e.g., personalized), and strictly-by-date would be exempted. I'm thinking sites like slashdot/fark.com and possible reddit would be exempt, even if they show ads, since they are not promoting individual stories, and they don't often push people down rabbit holes. But Twitter would be affected--they would need to go back to a simpler timeline implementation. And YouTube and Facebook would have to change their business models. And sites with comments would simply need to move comments to a page with no ads. And if you subscribe to a site, and it doesn't show ads, it wouldn't be affected at all.