This is a provocative interview with Alex Stamos, “the former head of security at Facebook who now heads up the Stanford Internet Observatory, which does deep dives into the ways people abuse the internet”. His argument is that social media companies (like Twitter) sometimes try to hard to make the world better, which he thinks should be “resisted”.
I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I think we absolutely do need to be worried about misinformation. On the other, he does have a very good point about people being complicit in their own radicalisation. It’s complicated.
I think what has happened is there was a massive overestimation of the capability of mis- and disinformation to change people’s minds — of its actual persuasive power. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, but we have to reframe how we look at it — as less of something that is done to us and more of a supply and demand problem. We live in a world where people can choose to seal themselves into an information environment that reinforces their preconceived notions, that reinforces the things they want to believe about themselves and about others. And in doing so, they can participate in their own radicalization. They can participate in fooling themselves, but that is not something that’s necessarily being done to them.
The fundamental problem is that there’s a fundamental disagreement inside people’s heads — that people are inconsistent on what responsibility they believe information intermediaries should have for making society better. People generally believe that if something is against their side, that the platforms have a huge responsibility. And if something is on their side, [the platforms] should have no responsibility. It’s extremely rare to find people who are consistent in this.
Any technological innovation, you’re going to have some kind of balancing act. The problem is, our political discussion of these things never takes those balances into effect. If you are super into privacy, then you have to also recognize that when you provide people private communication, that some subset of people will use that in ways that you disagree with, in ways that are illegal in ways, and sometimes in some cases that are extremely harmful. The reality is that we have to have these kinds of trade-offs.
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