Before you get all reactive to this column, I’m not here to tell you what side you should vote for. I am here to tell you two things. First, you should vote. Second, social media has no place whatsoever in telling you how you should vote, nor does it have any place whatsoever in being a channel for “bad actors” to influence how you should vote.
Twitter has come to realize it cannot accept advertising from political organizations. Google has said it would limit the targeting of political ads -- at least somewhat. Both Twitter and Google recognize clearly that they are platforms that can be manipulated, even if they don't consider themselves “media.”
That leaves Facebook, which has said nothing and will do nothing. Facebook is resting on the idea that it is not media, but a platform. This is a cop-out of the highest order.
Facebook is a platform, but one that can be manipulated, where anyone with enough money can influence anyone they want. Facebook is staying quiet because the issue is about money. Facebook may have once been about connection, but that is no longer the case. It is about money.
Facebook has a role to play in the future of the country where it was born, and I would argue it has a responsibility to do so. Facebook influences far more people than the “news” these days, because the “news feed” is where most people get their information. It has effectively created a series of small bubbles where users are consistently reinforcing their own current viewpoint and not being exposed to much of anything else at all. This is borderline censorship because it is a self-perpetuating feed of information.
I am a capitalist. I am all for Facebook making money. If I had time with Mark Zuckerberg, I would implore him to simply do three things to fix the issue:
First, limit what targeting criteria are available to political advertisers. If you limit the targeting segments in a way similar to what Google offered, you are able to remove some of the confinement of these messages.
Second, check the source of funding. No group outside the U.S. should be able to run U.S.-targeted ads for political messages.
Third, and potentially most interesting to me, is create an algorithm that offers up counterpoints to political messages that can be delivered into the feeds of specific people to offer them counter views to what they typically see.
At first pass this last idea may seem “off” to many of you, but I think it could be interesting. If you are a Trump supporter, then offer up some counterprogramming once in a while. If you are anti-Trump, then offer up some Trump supporter messages. On both sides, label these as counter-programming.
The point of the exercise is to ensure that people are actually able to understand the opposing point of view.
The biggest problem of social media is that it make you think you are right, and the other side of the argument is wrong. The world is not black and white. There are elements of truth in all opposing views, and truth always lies somewhere in the middle.
The biggest travesty of the last three to five years is that we are no longer willing, as a society, to engage in a discourse. We have become a conflict-oriented “my way or the highway” culture, and that is not good. That is not how we accomplish anything.
I understand that Facebook has a right to make money, but as one famous saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I hope Mark Zuckerberg is a Spider-Man fan.