Mass psychosis - a sign of successful design of social networks
This time censorship reports are convincing.
A new scandal about censorship in Facebook is taking place. Several former news curators at once told on the Gizmodo tech blog on how the social network allegedly "muffles" some topics and promotes others (Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News by Michael Nunez).
In 2014, Facebook opened the “Popular” section (Trending; the module is on the social network page at the top right), which reflects the most popular Facebook topics. The algorithm is assisted by a special team of journalist-curators. And if the algorithm is difficult enough to catch on the bias, it can only be suspected, then the human additive gives rise to the possibility of editorial intervention.
And the human factor is good because it leaves witnesses. Former Facebook employees told Gizmodo that the curators prevented Trending from appearing to the conservative public from appearing in the Trending, even if these topics were “organically” actively discussed in Facebook. One of the former curators, impressed by what was happening, kept records of blocked topics. In his opinion, these locks created a chilling effect for news and discussions of interest to the conservative part of society.
In addition, the former curators said that they allegedly received instructions about the artificial "injection" of some topics, even if these topics were not recommended by the algorithm, that is, they were not really popular enough in Facebook. Thus, special news "injections" were allegedly carried out for the Black Lives Matter social movement, which once originated in Fabsuk and was supported by Mark Zuckerberg personally.
If everything is so, then the Trending module does not work as a mirror, but as an editorial board, which displays not so much a picture of the world, but the editors ’opinion about what it should be.
Mark Zuckerberg denies everything
At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg in April at the F8 conference declared political neutrality and the principle of non-intervention of Facebook. And although he did not mention Donald Trump, observers link his statement with an internal discussion about the attitude towards Trump.
The fact is that in March, during the weekly voting of employees about what question to ask Zuckerberg, the fifth place was taken by the question "What responsibility should Facebook have to prevent Trump from winning the election?" (In other words, they are aware of their ability. But they deny their bias.
Of course, the next suspicions of bias logically turned into accusations of censorship. But censorship is too simple a diagnosis. In my opinion, the phenomenon of selective heating and cooling of certain topics should be analyzed on three levels - subjective, ethical and “ecosystem”.
"Facebook" kindles: the human factor
The author of the article in Gizmodo, Michael Núñez, speaking with comments on CNN (Is Facebook censoring conservative news?) Notes that young guys, fresh graduates of elite educational institutions from the Ivy League (8 of the richest private universities in the Northeast) work as curators of the algorithm in Trending. Their age and educational background form the corresponding personal predilections, including in politics. It can be assumed that conservative sympathies have little chance of penetrating into their picture of the world.
And nothing keeps them from expressing these sympathies if the fuses are not spelled out in any way by special internal restrictions or professional ethics, which has developed (at least its appearance) in traditional media. And here a global ethical problem arises - the formation of a news agenda passes to people for whom news is not a profession and for whom there is no ethical entourage in relation to the content (except for the notorious non-interference in the self-expression of users).
Facebook Kindle: Ethical Factor
The formation of the news agenda goes from experienced media editors, corrupt, but controlled by political elites, to “unprincipled” and free from social anchors young geeks from Silicon Valley. One can talk arbitrarily about the corruption of journalists and censorship in the media, but in this industry there are at least some ideas about professional ethics and a negative attitude towards censorship. Social requirements, developed by the society for 400 years and placed on the media, for IT companies that turn over terabytes of social content are simply indistinguishable.
Platforms declare non-interference in content in order to confirm their neutral status (“instrument neutral”) and to avoid unnecessary responsibility for everything written by users. As a result, it is in this whirlpool of declared neutrality that devils are inflated, compared to which censorship or bias in traditional media is a kindergarten. Immorality is immoral. Platforms would be more moral if they would not deny, but recognize the risks of bias. Then we would have to form ethical and regulatory control mechanisms, as happened with journalism.
Meanwhile, the fourth power inexorably passes to them. What is constantly ringing your bell, for example, Emily Bell, director of the Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. She notes that the media rely too much on technological innovations, while Silicon Valley does not serve journalism, but intercepts it. (Silicon Valley and Journalism: Make up or Break up?) "The news space is no longer owned by the media. The press is no longer responsible for providing the public with stories. The public sphere is now managed by a small number of private companies located in Silicon Valley," says Emily Bell. Creating convenient tools and encouraging the whole world to publish, the platforms acquire social significance, which was not their meaning and intention from the beginning. Traditional media do not understand what they are losing, and Silicon Valley does not understand what it creates. "
By not accepting the responsibility associated with the distribution of “user-made” content, social and search platforms, however, willingly take advantage of the influence and capitalization produced by the distribution of content. And while there are no ways to plant there at least the grains of “editorial” ethics.
Facebook is fueling: the ecosystem factor
Interesting evidence slips into confessions of former Facebook curators. The managers of this section had a certain sense of relevance - in fact, purely editorial. They understood that now the most heatedly debated by society and must discussed in Facebook. "We were told that if the topic is in the editorials of ten leading sites, such as CNN, the New York Times or the BBC, it means that we should also inject it," said the former curator. If the topic has attracted the attention of professional newsletters, then it is hot. Even if the audience of Facebook itself doesn’t really discuss it.
For example, the discussion of the missing Malaysian airliner or the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Facebook was tight. Facebook looked more pale in this context than Twitter, where the fire of hot news was blown up by hashtags instantly. “If the topic has already captured Twitter, but has not yet spread to Facebook, they could yell at us,” testifies the curator. Facebook should not look like a network with the slow spread of important news, it’s wrong. Need help.
In addition, Facebook should look like a suitable medium for solid and important discussions. For example, users stopped talking about Syria, tired, uninteresting. But without Syria, which is being discussed by political and media elites, Facebook looks lightly, as if it were a school party, and not a global platform for discussion. For some reason, it is absolutely necessary that Facebook is also hotly discussing Syria. Although it is clear that Syria itself at the same time - so, a replaceable cartridge. She is not even Trump, in relation to whom the section curators may have at least some personal feelings.
In the end, in pursuit of the best possible warm-up topics, the curators simply have to start to guess the topics and implant their significance subjectively. Just like the media editors.
This subjective effort to warm up activity is, in fact, an objective condition of the ecosystem. The curators turned out to be not so much the producers of significance as their instrument. McLuhan said that man, like a bee for flowers, became the sex-organ of machines, as it helps machines to reproduce (until they learn). In the same way, people have become a sex organ of information — bees, which carry pollen by the side effects of their activity, and this is what supports the ecosystem. The “goal” of the ecosystem is not the impact on the bee at all and not the organization of the bees in accordance with the plan of a conspiracy. The goal is to maintain the maximum activity of the bees. How to achieve bee activity?
Sublimation of political bias, sublimation of passion in general, is an inalienable, immanent feature of social networks. In the shearing-based ecosystem, that is, in the dissemination of information, information wants to spread and seeks / creates the best mechanisms for this. The Sharing ecosystem thrives most when it has viral infections.
Moreover, mass psychoses are the culmination of social coherence and a sign of successful design of social networks. When, for example, the Russian "Facebook" storms with squabbles, user involvement reaches its highest level. Festive garlands are lit on Zukerberg's imaginary console. Not because Zuckerberg wants it, but because the creature he created wants it.
Weighted judgment - sluggish bees. Slowly fly, suffer little. Need a high average temperature in the hospital. Maxwell's demons should be worn in flasks like mad, so that everywhere is as hot as possible. Strictly speaking, the publication, unable to "hook", disavows itself. The only meaning of the published self is its socialization, reflection in others, that is, in the production of resonance. That's what the social network lures its bees. Others resonate, so I exist. The ecosystem feeds pollinating bees with the possibility of rapid socialization.
That is why there were so many neurotic fights around Victory Day in Facebook. On sensitive dates, users inevitably touch on sensitive topics. Massive users, thousands of thousands, - do it most skillfully, that is why they are thousands of thousands. They are hostages of their resonating choir, they should feed it with the sharpest sounds possible.
For the same reason, and not just by conspiracy or instigation, the traditional media also throw in topics with the greatest potential for reaction. But the speed of sublimation in the broadcast media is small, so they are technically purely separate from their audience. And social networks create an ideal nutrient broth for viral sharing and its highest form - neurotic sublimation of sensitive topics. Indeed, in social networks, the publisher and the public constitute a single medium. A viral infection accompanied by a patient's fever and seizures is a normal and even “desirable” state of this environment.
The inevitability of social networks
It is unlikely that platforms like Facebook are consciously guided by these considerations. They only implement the design laid by their nature: the network cools down without viral diseases. Therefore, the curators must support, grow and plant viruses: it’s not for nothing that they use the term injection.
At the same time, politicization inevitably ripens in the search for topics and mechanisms most suitable for sublimation. Indeed, in a political theme, a person as a social being is realized more fully, and the coverage for the resonance of political topics is much greater than that of personal and household ones. Each authoritative user is simply doomed to catch and unwind Syria, as engineer Treuhov was doomed to talk about an international moment at a rally in honor of the launch of the Stargorod tram. Only the thousands of thousands must admit such Syria and in such expressions that commentators come up and flames break out, to put it in an archaic language. What can we say about the most massive user of the social network - about her demiurge. He is a hostage to the activity of his bees and the scale of his platform.
Where activity indicators are important, warming up is inevitable to those, where warming up to those is inevitable, their selection appears, where selection appears, censorship is possible there. Censorship is a side effect that arises during the implementation of larger-scale social network development tasks.
After such arguments, I am often asked: what to do, what is the way out? Nothing. Exit may not be. What can a sex organ like a bee do? Well, don't be a bee. There is a solution: "switch - backpack - taiga." But it will not work for everyone, and it will not affect the general state of the ecosystem. The only meaningful action is to know. Media literacy is the key to personal mental hygiene. It is hardly possible to demand something at the level of regulation.
Maybe the search and social platforms someday still recognize their editorial power in order to take on the attendant responsibility. Although it is not entirely clear why they should do it.
However, in the US elections: Republicans cling to Zuckerberg
Meanwhile, the scandal is gaining momentum. After the largest media unsubscribed about the revelations of Gizmodo, Senator John Thune sent an official request to Mark Zuckerberg with a request to clarify whether the social network really blocked some topics and promoted others.
The leaders of Facebook after the article in Gizmodo have already answered the accusations of censorship: they say, slander, there is nothing like that. Moreover, they responded in a comfortable format of statements about their highly moral principles, as did, for example, Tom Stocky, the company's vice-president in charge of Trending Topics. In general, he made a response statement in his cozy facebook (Mark Zuckerberg was among the most liked ones). But if official proceedings begin, the format of communication will be less comfortable. We'll have to answer specific questions, rather than broadcast solemn statements. The senator asks, in particular, to tell you how the work of the Facebook section is organized, whether the curators really manipulate the content in Trending Topics, what kind of investigation was carried out by Facebook itself in connection with the accusations and what measures were taken, what the instructions for the curators look like, what is the list " thrown in "and withdrawn in order for a certain period.
In the US, elections are nearing, and the Republicans, of course, seize on with a death grip. They always say that the media are biased towards them, but this is the case. If they seize upon Zuckerberg, then they can go, for example, to the Senate hearings, and then to regulation. The aforementioned John Tyun, by the way, is not an ordinary senator, but the whole chairman of a profile committee (on commerce, science and transport). That is, he can insist that the issues of regulating the freedom of speech in social networks are just under his department.
As James Warren points out in his press review of Poynter (The real problem (or problems) with Facebook's 'Trending Topics'), both conservatives and traditional media do not like and fear Facebook, and not without reason. So the first will unleash the reason to the full extent, and the second will gloatfully describe.
In order to avoid state regulation and shareholder dissatisfaction, Facebook and other networks may well have to adopt editorial guidelines and ethical codes at an advanced rate, that is, to accept their responsibility for editorial policies that they allegedly do not have. So there was a small chance that after this article in Gizmodo there will be some, if not tectonic, changes. It is unlikely that this story will change the very nature of social networks, but it may lead to the formation of some new factors inside the ecosystem. Mark Zuckerberg should give an answer to the senator before May 24th.