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ANNALEE NEWITZ IS on a quest for better social media, as described in The New York Times, December 1, 2019. Her article is as rich as social media itself, but without its corporate greed, lack of privacy, and divisiveness. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits gleaned from Annalee Newitz and her sources.
Parasites on Human Connection. We are not the clients of social media giants such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the like. We are the product offered to social media’s real clients, its advertisers. Users’ personal data, some of it required, some freely offered, are sold to advertisers without consent.
Erika Hall, co-founder 20 years ago of design firm Mule, told Newitz, “At a business model level, they are ad networks parasitic on human connection.”
Algorithms Gone Mad. The vastness of social media has promoted the use of algorithms handling operations. Algorithms help us do lots of things, and not only with social media: We order everything from medications to movie tickets by automation. But when algorithms displace human common sense, they’ve gone dangerously mad.
Having been declared a non-person by Facebook, I recognize the dangers of such computer-automated processes.
Facebook Versus WeChat. Newitz quotes Siva Vaidhyanathan, a University of Virginia professor, on the potential for Facebook getting more comfortable with authoritarianism: “They’ve already shown a willingness to do this—they’ve bent to the demands of other governments,” Vaidhyanathan says.
Newitz writes, “He predicts that we’re about to see a showdown between two powerhouse social media companies—Facebook and WeChat. WeChat has more than one billion users in China and among Chinese diaspora groups, and their users have no expectations of privacy. Facebook has 2.4 billion users, dominating every part of the world except China. If Facebook wants to reach inside China’s borders, it might take on WeChat’s values in the name of competition.”
A Distrustful Online Generation. Newitz spoke with sci-fi writer and “enthusiastic Twitter pundit” John Scalzi. She shares his point about people “who have grown up online (soon, that will be most people) and already know that digital information can’t be trusted.”
“They will not be internet optimists in the way that the current generation of tech millionaires wants,” Scalzi says, “They’ll be internet pessimists and realists.”
Easy Hookups. Contacting people through today’s social media is trivially easy, which is both a blessing and a curse. As Newitz notes, “It also meant, by default, any government or advertiser could do the same.”
The current situation, she says, also promotes “divisiveness and conspiracy theories, not consensus-building and civil debate.” Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see what Newitz proposes to get us out of this quandary. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019