I listened to this TED Talk yesterday, via the TED podcast. Carole Cadwalladr’s message was chilling but not at all surprising, considering just how much news there is about how Facebook (mostly) is abused to undermine trust in facts, in institutions, in each other, and, ultimately, in democratic elections.
Dark money flowing into ephemeral, misleading, highly-targeted advertising is rightly identified as the leading cause of these problems. Sometimes I think that if the advertising element were removed from Facebook, a lot of these problems go away. After all, isn’t the problem that people can pay to publish whatever they want, targeted to whoever they want, and there is no tradable record of it anywhere thereafter? But after thinking about it for a little while longer, I think that the advertisements are only part of the problem. The algorithms that target content, wherever it comes from, to the most engaged (most gullible?) users, are another huge part of the problem. People will spread user-generated misleading nonsense almost as fast as the targeted advertisements will spread.
I have concluded that the human brain isn’t well adapted to the scale, speed, and the algorithmic targeting of information that social media sites. Those are the very things that make a site like Facebook work. These kind of websites are flawed because our brains are flawed. That’s a problem that is not possible to solve.