What the fight for Facebook loses

What the fight for Facebook loses

What the fight for Facebook loses

This article is part of the On Tech Newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it during the week.

The president of the United States and one of the most powerful corporations in the United States are like husbands caught in an argument over dirty socks: They are avoiding the real problem.

In the past week, President Biden and Facebook have been in a war of words over vaccine misinformation. Each side took an extreme position that distracted them and us from a deeper problem: Americans have become so divided that it is difficult to even begin to address our problems. We have seen this with the pandemic, climate change, violent crime, and more.

My wish for all of us, our elected leaders and the technology companies that mediate our discourse, is that everyone stay glued to what they can do to find common ground.

To recap the grudge showdown: President Biden said late last week that internet networks like Facebook were “killing people” because he believes they are not doing enough to stop the spread of misleading information about Covid-19 or vaccines. against the virus. Facebook responded that it was helping save lives by amplifying authoritative information about the coronavirus and said the White House was trying to deflect blame for not meeting its vaccination targets.

President Biden backed off his provocative language, but the White House continued to pressure Facebook to do more, including to provide information on the prevalence of misinformation about the coronavirus on the social network. My colleague Sheera Frenkel reported that Facebook doesn’t actually have this data, in part because the company hasn’t made an effort to find out.

Still sold out? I am. My former colleague Charlie Warzel called this a “great example of a flattened, social media-influenced speech that is poisoning us all.”

Both Facebook and the White House are a bit right and wrong, as my colleague Cecilia Kang said in The Daily this week.

On the White House side, officials began with nuanced suggestions from the surgeon general to improve health information, including recommendations for government officials and social media companies. It was basically forgotten once when the president and other officials started blaming Facebook without nuances.

Facebook is also a bit good and bad. Mark Zuckerberg said in to interview posted Thursday that the public does not consider a police department a failure if the crime is more than zero, implying that Facebook cannot be expected to remove every piece of misinformation or incitement to violence. It’s a fair point and raises questions about what Zuckerberg and the rest of us consider to be an acceptable level of misinformation and other egregious behavior on the site, and how the company measures success.

But it would help if Facebook did more to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth: Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter all play important roles in informing the public. other in misinforming the public. It would also help if the company simply said out loud what Sheera reported – that it does not know the prevalence of misleading information about the coronavirus on its social network and cannot answer questions from the White House.

Doing such an analysis would help improve our collective understanding of how information is disseminated online, just as Facebook’s (late and reluctant) self-assessment of Russian propaganda surrounding the 2016 US elections improved our collective understanding of campaign campaigns. foreign influence.

But if Facebook told us tomorrow how much misleading information about the coronavirus was circulating, Americans would still argue about the meaning of the data and what to do about it.

And we would repeat the same fights over who is to blame for misinformation, the limits of free speech, and whether social platforms are doing too much or too little to control what is said on their sites.

The fundamental problem is that we have very few points in common. Not all of us agree on how much to focus on a virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans or how to balance prevention measures that have disrupted people’s lives and the economy. We cannot agree on how to stop climate change and we are not prepared to collectively face the consequences. It seems the only thing we can agree on is that the other party cannot be trusted.

Is this the fault of the algorithms and business models of social media companies, of people trying to make a quick buck, of irresponsible politicians who play on our emotions, or of our fears of getting sick or homeless? Yes.

This should not allow anyone or any company to get off the hook of fostering an environment of mistrust. But there is no simple answer to what the disinformation researcher Renée DiResta has called a problem of the whole society.

That’s why the days of squabbles between the White House and Facebook get us nowhere. We get obsessed with scoring points on arguments and details like missing data, and we ignore the much bigger picture. We cannot agree on anything important. We don’t trust each other. That is the real problem that we must solve.

  • Rich guys in space: The Internet was once the exclusive domain of big government, until technology executives made it a place for billions of people. Now, technologists like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk want to do the same with space, write my colleagues David Streitfeld and Erin Woo.

    Related: The Amazon founder’s space flight this week turned Bezos into the “idiot’s Dorian Gray,” says Jacob Bernstein.

  • Get ready to fix your own tractor! (If you want.) The Federal Trade Commission voted to uphold the “right to repair” principle, the idea that manufacturers of smartphones, appliances and farm equipment should not restrict the purchase of parts and manuals for product repair. Big companies like Apple and John Deere have cost people and the planet by tightly controlling who can repair their products.

  • Just look at the bears: We all deserve the live web feed of bears doing bear stuffSays Insider.

It is a horse The use of horse braces. Made from human blue jeans.

We want to hear from you. Let us know what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to explore. You can reach us at [email protected] BLOCK.

If you still do not receive this newsletter in your inbox, please register here. You can also read previous On Tech columns.