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Sacha Baron Cohen: Rise of Social media, Democracy declines

At a recent ADL conference, actor/comedian/director Sacha Baron Cohen links the rise of the social media to the decline of democracy:

“Today … 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 retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.”

Sacha Baron Cohen, Keynote Address at ADL’s 2019 Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate

Though he cites many reasons, emphasis was made on one:

But 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.

The greatest propaganda machine in history.

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 that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel Prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.

Sacha Baron Cohen, Keynote Address at ADL’s 2019 Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate

The Age of Reason has come to an end. Social media has helped speed it along.

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Daily dose

Open APIs – A proposal to monitor fake news

Around the world, ‘fake news’ or disinformation is of the newest phenomena that has causing problems. Russian propaganda has messed up with the US elections which most likely have given Donald Trump the Presidency while here in the Philippines, die-hard supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte has succeeded in hijacking the public discourse with its army of online trolls. Congress has already conducted hearings, debates continue to rage on in academic circles, the public space and on social media sites. What can we do?

Tom Wheeler, a former Chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission has a proposal:

The government should require social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to use a similar open application programming interface. This would make it possible for third parties to build software to monitor and report on the effects of social media algorithms. (This idea has been proposed by Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee who helped organize the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011.) To be clear, the proposal is not to force companies to open up their algorithms — just the results of the algorithms. The goal is to make it possible to understand what content is fed into the algorithms and how the algorithms distribute that content. Who created the information or advertisement? And to what groups of users was it directed? An open application programming interface would therefore threaten neither a social media platform’s intellectual property nor the privacy of its individual users.

The question is, would Facebook, Twitter and other social-media entities open up?