Dean Clough

September 29, 2023

Portico Darwin: How to Fix Social Media (& America?)


<2 Minute Read
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Happy Friday and consider that only Republicans have caused government shutdowns.  Further, if the Republican party were interested in reducing the deficit, they could repeal the Trump tax cuts and also tax capital at the same rate as labor.

But you'll be pleased to know that's not what today is about.  Instead, I will join several other thought leaders on a point that I believe is worth emphasizing. 

Or elevating or platforming, if you will.

It is about limiting the societal damage done by Meta and other social media companies, by fixing Section 230.

Section 230 if you're unaware is a part of an old law, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and it gives Internet companies immunity from liability for anything their users might post on their platforms.  This is the polar opposite of the laws by which traditional media (newspapers, TV, etc.) abides - if they publish demonstrably false things, they can be sued for libel. 

We all know the outcome.  When Facebook was first introduced, it was a fun way to share thoughts and feelings and photos with friends and family.  But then - and it all happened right around 2012 - they introduced the "Like" button, and Twitter (now X) the retweet capability, and that was it.  It didn't take these companies long to learn a simple equation:

Enragement = Engagement

In other words, the social media companies learned inflammatory content generated a LOT more interest (engagement) by users.  Which is a good thing when your business is selling advertising. 

So they began, algorithmically, elevating and platforming shitty and upsetting content.  You know, insanity like QAnon and Pizzagate, but also things that made kids - especially young girls - harm themselves when they were outcast or made to feel inferior.  Depression for girls nearly doubled in 10 years, and the spike began right around 2012.

It is not much of an oversimplification to say that the elevation of enraging content is how we've ended up with a completely divided and polarized electorate, a dysfunctional government, and damaged teenagers.  Many on social media since 2012 onward know little else than what The Algorithm shows them.  The impact has not been good, and it's not just Insta-envy.

Because how about this:  If Facebook and Twitter could have been held responsible for propagating the myth that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, January 6th and everything after likely would not have happened. 

Because the Bogus content would not have seen the light of day beyond a few crackpots.  And that's where the answer to the problem lies.

Meta, X, YouTube, or anyone can host and make available anything they wish.  No matter how vile (with obvious limitations) or fake it may be.   

But any content - ANY - that is boosted or whose reach is algorithmically altered is NOT PROTECTED BY SECTION 230.

Sorry for the shouting, but I do feel this is vital and offers a way out.  Again, the problem is obvious.  Beginning around 2012, nonsense that would have just fallen away began being elevated and platformed algorithmically, by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.  And that's primarily because they are not bound by the same standards as a newspaper, magazine, or TV channel.  Those, too, have large reach - but they can't elevate anything they want, because they're not protected by Section 230.

With this restriction in place, anyone would still be free to publish anything on these platforms.  But if a platform artificially alters the reach of a given message - good or bad - it must be held liable.

Have a great weekend, and here's to our government functioning on Monday.  Maybe after passing the budget, they could even do real work.  Like fixing Section 230.


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