Algorithms, lies, and social media - Deepstash

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The shift of the internet

The shift of the internet

There was a time when the internet was seen as a source of good. It propelled progressive social movements and set information free.

But today, the internet plays a vital role in steering mindsets and retreating democracy - from fake news bots to misinformation to conspiracy theories.

The paradox - that the internet is both saviour and executioner of democracy - can be understood through the lenses of classical economics and cognitive science.

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The internet as saviour and executioner of democracy

The internet as saviour and executioner of democracy

In traditional markets, firms make goods to satisfy the preferences of consumers. But the market on social media and the internet exists to serve the needs of the advertisers, not the consumers. These markets sell information about their users to advertisers.

On social media, users"pay" for free services by giving up their data to unspecified third parties who use it to expose them to tailored ads. This economic model is driving online platforms to exploit their users' cognitive limitations and vulnerabilities.

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In pursuit of our attention

In pursuit of our attention

A strategy to maximize advertising revenue when the interests of the online platform do not align with the user's interests is to present users with surprising or sensational content to keep them engaged. A study by Mozilla researchers found that YouTube actively recommends sensational content to keep users engaged.

Our attention is negatively captured by either negative or awe-inspiring news. To grab our attention, digital platforms offer misinformation that feeds outrage and anger. For example, Facebook's newsfeed curation algorithm favours content eliciting anger and negative ads.

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Users are often unaware

When people use social media, they are not always aware that they are the passive subjects of commercial transactions between the platform and advertisers involving their own personal data.

Users are also often unaware of how their news feed on social media is curated. Even people who are aware of algorithmic curation tend not to fully understand what that involves.

However, people often object to collecting sensitive information and data for personalization.

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Shifting the balance of power

Protecting citizens from manipulation and misinformation and protecting democracy itself requires redesigning the current online “attention economy”.

The redesign must restore the signals that are available to consumers and the public in conventional markets: users need to know what platforms do and what they know, and society must have the tools to judge whether platforms act fairly and in the public interest.

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Online regulation

  1. There must be greater transparency and more individual control of personal data.
  2. Platforms must signal the quality of the information in a newsfeed so users can assess the risk of accessing it. “Endogenous” cues could alert us to emotionally charged words designed to provoke outrage.
  3. The public should be alerted when political speech circulating on social media is part of an ad campaign. Paid ads masquerading as independent opinions distort that marketplace.
  4. The public must know exactly how algorithms curate and rank information. The public should be able to shape their own online environment.

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Concerns with online regulation

Concerns with online regulation

There is considerable public and political scepticism about regulations. Governments that step in to regulate social media content, if done improperly, could result in censorship.

In liberal democracies, regulations must not only be proportionate to the threat of harmful misinformation but also respectful of fundamental human rights.

The best solution lies in shifting control of social media from unaccountable corporations to democratic agencies that operate openly, under public oversight.

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mak_oo

I have a huge passion for food, hate to stay in comfort zone.

Attaining a more transparent and less manipulative online media.

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