Sacha Baron Cohen recently spoke about how social media services have become the “greatest propaganda machine in history”.
Much of the media’s focus, when reporting on his remarks, was on his attack on Facebook. While he certainly targeted Facebook, he also spoke about how Google, YouTube, and Twitter shape online discourse, and how they help spread lies, bigotry, and attacks on fact-based discussions.
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.”
As much as we embrace free expression, we find it difficult to draw a line when liars and bigots abuse their right to free expression because doing that feels like hypocrisy.
Free expression isn’t unlimited, though. And pushing back against channels that help propagate misinformation, abuse, and false statements that impact substantial segments of the population is becoming more important.
At the very least, it’s worth watching Cohen’s talk, or reading his remarks:
We should also think carefully about how much trust we place in services that profit from the social chaos we see around us.
We have an amazing culture at Automattic that includes giving each other kudos as one form of recognition for great work, whether that’s delivering happiness to a customer, or to each other.
Typically we use a Slack bot to share kudos, and that’s posted to an internal WordPress site dedicated to showcasing internal kudos.
At the Grand Meetup (which we attended in mid-September – I’ll probably share more from that soon), we also have the option of giving handwritten kudos to each other. I like the ease of giving digital kudos, and at the same time I really like being able to write a note to my colleagues to express my appreciation for their efforts.
This year I was fortunate to receive a few cards from my colleagues, and really appreciate each of them.
I decided against sharing details of all of the cards I received as the messages can be pretty personal. At the same time, I’m grateful for each card.
Better gender representation is a challenge. I’m proud of our team’s efforts to better understand this challenge, and how to meet it. It’s clearly not something that’s capable of a simple fix, but I’m glad that we seem to be moving in a good direction. Here are some links if you’re interested in reading further:
Thanks to the open web it was possible to create massive platforms, which inevitably became closed.
He asks an important question:
Do we now abandon the open web or is it essential for keeping the closed platforms in check?
I think the only real answer to this question is not to abandon the open Web. The open Web remains essential, both in itself, and to offer a compelling alternative to closed platforms.
The open Web can offer a healthier, more sustainable alternative to closed platforms. What we need are services that are as good as, or better than, closed platforms. Perhaps more importantly, the open alternatives should be just as convenient to use. This is where open solutions seem to be lacking, for now at least.
Shoshanna shared this tweet about her friend who went to shul to say Kaddish for a parent:
It’s a reminder that there’s always room to be more considerate towards each other, especially in prayer. I’m not particularly religious, but when something means so much to someone, we can slow down a bit, and be more compassionate.