I believe I have found the enabler of the coming civil war.
Thank you, Chairpersons Pallone and Schakowsky, for inviting me to speak today.
When I started working in technology, my hope was to build products that brought people together in new and productive ways. I wanted to improve the world we all lived in.Instead, the social media services that I and others have built over the past 15 years have served to tear people apart with alarming speed and intensity.
I feel ashamed by this outcome. And I am deeply concerned. And to that end, I am compelled to talk to you about what we can do to limit further damage—and maybe even undo some of it.
My path in technology started at Facebook where I was the first Director of Monetization. I thought my job was to figure out the business model for the company, and presumably one that sought to balance the needs of its stakeholders — its advertisers, its users and its employees. Instead, we sought to mine as much attention as humanly possible and turn into historically unprecedented profits.
To do this, we didn’t simply create something useful and fun. We took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, working to make our offering addictive at the outset.
Tobacco companies initially just sought to make nicotine more potent. But eventually that wasn’t enough to grow the business as fast as they wanted. And so they added sugar and menthol to cigarettes so you could hold the smoke in your lungs for longer periods. At Facebook, we added status updates, photo tagging, and likes, which made status and reputation primary and laid the groundwork for a teenage mental health crisis.
Allowing for misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news to flourish were like Big Tobacco’s bronchodilators, which allowed the cigarette smoke to cover more surface area of the lungs. But that incendiary content alone wasn’t enough. To continue to grow the user base and in particular, the amount of time and attention users would surrender to Facebook, they needed more.
Tobacco companies added ammonia to cigarettes to increase the speed with which nicotine traveled to the brain. Extreme, incendiary content—think shocking images, graphic videos, and headlines that incite outrage—sowed tribalism and division. And this result has been unprecedented engagement – and profits.
Facebook’s ability to deliver this incendiary content to the right person, at the right time, in the exact right way… that is their ammonia.
Social media preys on the most primal parts of your brain. The algorithm maximizes your attention by hitting you repeatedly with content that triggers your strongest emotions— it aims to provoke, shock, and enrage.
When you see something you agree with, you feel compelled to defend it. When you see something you don’t agree with, you feel compelled to attack it. People on the other side of the issue have the same impulses. The cycle continues with the algorithm in the middle happily dealing arms to both sides in an endless war of words and misinformation. All the while, the technology is getting smarter and better at provoking a response from you.
These algorithms have brought out the worst in us. They’ve literally rewired our brains so that we’re detached from reality and immersed in tribalism.
This is not by accident. It’s an algorithmically optimized playbook to maximize user attention — and profits.
And there are limited checks and balances.
In 2016, internal analysis at Facebook found 64% of all extremist group joins were due to their own recommendation tools. Yet repeated attempts to counteract this problem were ignored or shut down…………..
……….When it comes to misinformation, these companies hide behind the First Amendment and say they stand for free speech. At the same time, their algorithms continually choose whose voice is actually heard. In truth, it is not free speech they revere. Instead, Facebook and their cohorts worship at the altar of engagement and cast all other concerns aside, raising the voices of division, anger, hate and misinformation to drown out the voices of truth, justice, morality, and peace.
House Committee On Energy And Commerce
Testimony of Tim Kendall, 24 September 2020
I have been slow to see it, but I think in hindsight it’s going to be obvious. Google, Facebook, Twitter and a host of other (Anti) social media are the enablers of the coming Second American civil war. As Kendall claims, we have been polarised for profit.
Think about it. Doesn’t everyone have at least one acquaintance who is rabidly anti – something who vents on Facebook? It matters not what the subject is; vaccination, animal testing, trans fats, pedophiles, the unpleasant waking thoughts of ordinarily normal polite people are detected and amplified by social media and transmitted around the world in seconds. How else does a stupid autistic teenager like Greta Thunberg get an audience?
This is what is termed in electronics as a feed back loop – infinite amplification of a tiny bit of noise into further noise that is again amplified into a howling scream until the machine destroys itself. This is what is driving Antifa and the left to greater and greater excesses, first of political correctness, then into cancel culture and now into riot and vandalism. It ain’t Marxism that’s doing this, it’s Facebook. I don’t see the protesters carrying Das Kapital or the little red book.
In my opinion, this was done initially for harmless profit, it’s now done for political power. The owners have discovered the strength of their AI’s ability to manipulate humans and, like all fallible creatures, decided to use it for what they consider to be noble ends – the perfection of humanity according to their own stars. Hence the amplifier knob of the left is turned up and the right is turned down. They also realize now that they are riding the tiger. Left alone, the general public and Congress will eventually wake up to what has happened and break up or chain up the vicious amplifiers of social discord. That is what the defunct “fairness doctrine” was about. We need it back.
However it’s clear that the genie is out of the bottle and the world is going to receive an object lesson in the powers of electronic suggestion as America goads itself into a bloody civil war. It is also obvious that President Xi’s surveillance state is another example of the malign use of social media.
Don’t post this on Facebook.