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    Instead of protecting democracy – Big Tech is history’s biggest propaganda machine

    January 2020

    Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst Instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. It’s as if the Age of Reason – the era of evidential argument – is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in threat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.

    What do all these dangerous trends have in common?

    One thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history. Just think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others – they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and trigger outrage and fear. Thanks to social media, conspiracies take hold, it’s easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections

    In their defense, these social media companies have taken some steps to reduce hate and conspiracies on their platforms, but these steps have been mostly superficial. I certainly believe it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies. In October last year, however, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook delivered major speech that, not surprisingly, warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his. Well, some of these arguments are in my opinion simply absurd. Let’s count the ways.

    First, Mark Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as “choices… around free expression”. That is ludicrous. This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people, the biggest platform to reach a third of the planet

    Second, Mark Zuckerberg claimed that new limits on what’s posted on social media would be to “pull back on free expression”.The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech, however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook. We’re not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech. We just want them to be responsible on their platforms.

    Third Mark Zuckerberg seemed to equate regulations of companies like his to the actions of “the most repressive societies”, Incredible. This is, from one of the most influential people who decide what information so much of the world sees. I call them the “Silicon Six” – all billionaires, all Americans – who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism – six unelected individuals (Management of Alphabet – Google – YouTube – Facebook – Twitter) in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar.

    Here’s my idea. Instead of letting the Silicone Six decide the fate of the world, let our elected representatives, voted for by the people, of every democracy in the world, have at least some say.

    Fourth, Mark Zuckerberg speaks of welcoming a “diversity of ideas,” and he said “ I think there are things that different people get wrong. People should decide what is credible, not tech companies.” Now are they supposed to know that a lie is a lie?

    There is such a thing as objective truth. Facts do exist. And if these internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups, insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.

    Fifth, when discussing the difficulty of removing content, Mark Zuckerberg asked “where do you draw the line?” Yes, it can be difficult. But here’s what he’s really saying: removing more of these lies and conspiracies is just too expensive. Please understand, these are the richest companies in the world, and they have the best engineers in the world. They definitely could fix these problems if they wanted to. How could a possible solution look like?

    Here is my opinion. The media are by no doubt the most directly affected by fraud and the publishing of fake content, which directly effects the reputation of media organizations on one hand, and also on the nature of published content or issues that are circulating globally on the other. For example, news is archived in a particular case (ex.: the US-China trade war) in Blockchained – News technology, in which all news published is recorded, tracked analyzed with its “original sources”, whether it is by people, or by journalistic data, or by interviews. This is then recorded in the form of an electronic record system which can be processed and written down to allow the target audience to track information through a secure network (documentary media platforms), and will not require additional verification of third parties such as countries, institutions or governments that are related to the nature of the published content. We can make it easier also. With Blockchained – News technology, the audience, through a single platform, can track all statements of the US president about the trade war with China, and it can have one sequential code for the statement according to the original source of the statement, which is archived by date, place and duration of the permission. The documented code is approved when the news is published again through the media, and therefore it’s difficult to fake it or distort it.

    For the media, besides creating blockchain – enabled services and revenue opportunities In addition to process improvements for establishing more trust, efficiency and security into existing media supply chains, blockchain can also be used to develop new functionality and differentiating value-added digital services that meet the rising expectations of both clients (such as content creators and advertisers) and customers.

    As an example, blockchain – enabled micropayments (here Facebook’s Libra could make sense) can boost revenue from low-priced content – such as individual song tracks, articles or pictures – as consumers don’t have to pay disproportional transaction fees to third-party payment applications like PayPal. In another area, blockchain enables targeting audiences better by delivering fewer, but more timely and relevant, content and ads to the customer, thus enhancing the customer experience – in particular when leveraging artificial intelligence (AI).

    Blockchain technology can also be used to enhance social media and the content that is being broadcasted through that means of communications. Blockchain – based social media networks can offer:

    • Truly decentralized content. A blockchain – based social media network will be decentralized with no central server. This gives control of the users and the content they choose to post.

    • More secure social network. From hackers to government sponsored information sharing; current social media networks are just gathering up user information and selling it to the highest bidder.

    • Better consumer payment options. Consumer transactions that happen over social media can be cumbersome, since there are only a handful of ways to make payments.

    Blockchain in my opinion can also go beyond the media in publishing content, and help governments and official institutions that rely on data, figures and statistics that is useful to attract new investments, or reach their target public and provide high – quality services.

    All of this is possible today. But the truth is, Big Tech won’t fundamentally change because their business model relies on generating engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear, and outrage.

    Finally, Mark Zuckerberg said that social media companies should “live up to their responsibilities,” but he’s totally silent about what should happen when they don’t. By now it’s pretty clear to me; they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. As with the Industrial Revolution, it’s time for regulation and legislation.

    Allow me to leave you with a suggestion for a different aim for society.

    The ultimate aim of society should in my opinion be to make sure that people are not targeted, not harassed and not murdered because of who they are, where they come from, whom they love, or how they pray.

    If we make that our aim – if we prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference and experts over ignoramuses – then maybe, just maybe, we can stop the greatest propaganda machine in history, we can save democracy, we can still have a place for free speech and free expression.