December 13, 2018

Regulations Can't Save Facebook

“In response to charges of fake news and foreign interference in elections, Facebook executives lament that they were blindsided by how their platform has been misused and abused. Such surprise is either naive or a misdirection from a company that prided itself in understanding and monetizing human behaviors.

Unfortunately, Facebook has little control to change human behaviors that they exploit with their algorithms; and regulations will not eliminate the abuse and misinformation either.

Facebook has been a great platform for social interaction precisely because it plays upon our desires to connect and have purpose among our community. Facebook has brought people together with common interests, and long-lost friends have found one another to rebuild connections. The resulting good has been immense as Facebook has played a role in raising funds for various causes that have helped thousands.

Unfortunately, those same human desires and tendencies are a source for perpetuating abuse, hate, trolling, cyberbullying, misinformation, rumors, jealousy and misogyny. Sadly, social media is now a source of public health risk, with documented rises in depression and suicide rates.

At the crux of the problem are natural and well-understood human behaviors, including homophily and confirmation bias. Homophily is the tendency of individuals with similar beliefs (e.g., around cultural, political, race, or drug issues), social demographics and other characteristics to come together.

Facebook creates a natural environment for individuals to opt in with similar others while excluding those with contrarian views. The behaviors on social networks have popularized these terms: echo chambers, consumption treadmill, birds of a feather flock together, and the information cocoon/bubble.”

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