The Internet is a reflection of us, and we don’t like what we see
We love to hate social media and search because they’re an uncomfortable mirror of our culture.
Another day, another public relations disaster for Silicon Valley. Whether they’re selling highly targeted ads to hate groups, allowing Russian hackers to pose as angry Muslims, or spreading misinformation after a mass shooting, the refrain is the same:
“Google and Facebook, you have a responsibility to filter the Internet.”
The problem, of course, is that Google and Facebook aren’t really filtering companies, and they definitely aren’t journalism companies. They’re advertising companies, and their goal is not to shape the world — but simply to reflect it and then sell ads to people looking at that reflection.
Facebook is full of misinformation and conspiracy theories because humans love disseminating misinformation and subscribing to conspiracy theories. Facebook’s mission isn’t to create a better world — it’s simply to augment the world that already exists by making communication easier. That includes the good parts of life — like event invitations and vacation photos — and the horrible stuff too.
When we ask Google and Facebook to contribute to what we believe would be a kinder, safer, more inclusive society, they say, “We didn’t sign up for that.”
They rarely take serious political or cultural stances, and they waffle under pressure when they do. They intentionally foster platforms that are open to just about all speech — including speech that is provably false or openly hateful by most people’s standards. They’re built to scale, not to set an admirable example. It sucks that they’re not on board with the mission to build a better culture, but they also have the right to make that choice.
If we stopped looking to Facebook, Google and tech companies to be cultural leaders, how would our behavior change?
Will we become more intentional about what we read and how we learn? Can we stop trusting algorithms that prioritize ad sales over the best interest of individuals? Will we stop allowing our News Feed to act as our daily front page for learning about the world?