In an interview with Ina Fried of Axios, Andrew Bosworth, who will soon be the CEO of Meta, defended the spread of misinformation on the company’s platforms. The Washington Post described the argument as “Social media doesn’t hurt people. People hurt people.”
Is Bosworth right? After all, people post what they want on Facebook. Do we want to stop that?
They share things they see. Do we want to stop that?
People use mobile phones to plan terrorism and share child pornography. Do we blame the mobile phone companies?
Facebook is not a common carrier
I’d buy Meta’s argument if Facebook didn’t shape what’s shared the way that it does.
Right now, the algorithms at Facebook and Instagram surface what’s popular. This is what causes the most outrageous information to spread.
Meta is not neutral. Its algorithm prioritizes extremes. This is what makes it a vector for the worst content. And it’s why lies spread. They spread because people interact with them.
It’s yet another example of how the algorithm runs Facebook and Instagram, not the other way around.
A thought experiment
Imagine two public parks dedicated to free speech.
In the first park — call it Hyde Park — anyone can stand on a soapbox and speak. They can reach whatever crowd assembles from people walking by.
In the second park — call it Meta Park — again, anyone can stand on a soapbox and give a speech. But there are amplified speakers all around the park. And if a crowd reaches a certain size — say 20 people — then the person speaking has their voice amplified and broadcast throughout the park. And if the total audience of the speech, including the people gathered around the amplified speakers, exceeds 100 people, it gets louder and louder and gathers an ever bigger audience.
Both parks are allowing free speech. But Meta Park is amplifying the audience effect. If Meta Park’s speakers were all over the world, it would be a lot like Meta’s properties Facebook and Instagram.
I can imagine the maintainers of Meta Park saying “Hey, people are speaking and other people are listening. We’re just here in the middle helping.”
But only the most naive observer wouldn’t blame the proprietors of Meta Park if a crazed mob formed because a lone nut won the amplification process.
Meta is a vector for evil. Crush Facebook.