One of the best conversations I hear is all about section 230. Let start with what section 230 says
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”
This of course was based on laws previously that absolved phone companies from crimes. For example, if I use the phone to call you, and plan a crime no one can sue Verizon saying that they are responsible as we could not plan the crime without the phones. Well obviously, Verizon (please note I don’t own the stock, and I am no way promoting or disparaging Verizon.). The goal was to protect public conversation. Basically if 230 does not exists people are afraid to host (not protected.). 230 allows moderation (without having to get rid of everything)
WIth 230 ISP (people who host/carry internet traffic) as well as web sites/applications are not responsible for the content. This allowed companies like reddit, facebook, instagram, youtube etc. to create a platform for creators or anyone who wants to author content now can get their word out. But this also allowed a blog like this to have comments without being worried what I would be responsible. If someone sued me I probably could not defend myself as the costs would be too high.
Before these platforms (and the internet) there were gatekeepers and editors who did the moderation, this is old media (newspapers ,radio and TV.). The platforms also created ways to get the content to a wider audience, and the platforms desire to draw audience used algorithms to direct its users to content they think is interesting. These algorithms are written by humans (so let us not pretend they are independent) and are done to create “engagement” which equates to more time on the platform which equals more profit. This is no more than news catering to their audience etc. all so be able to sell advertising.
There is some great discussions about whether these algorithms have created militants, terrorists, extremist etc. I listened to a podcast that argued both sides, and research about people who were moved to an extreme via “youtube” videos. That the recommendation engine was the root cause of their conversion. To me both sides have points, and I left not knowing which is right. But digging into these algorithms I find myself looking at what youtube recommends and often is has some basis of what i have watched (lots of concerts, some podcasts etc.). I can see that the recommendations if you search for one extreme view can lead you to others. But alas you have to start searching for it.
Mike Elgan on “this week in google” made comments that these algorithms ask as an amplifier. And that it is not the poster of content that really is at fault, but the algorithms that push it out. For example I can post an Anti-vax video (please not I am not Anti-vax) and the platform based on its algorithm can find people who might be sympathetic and this video may convince them. Note the users didn’t at the moment search Anti-vax, it showed up in their feed. So the algorithm is amplifying this incorrect statement and causing others see my point of view versus what is reality.
I can understand the argument, it make sense on the surface and could force platforms to write better algorithms, but it also maybe a problem. This gets to the notion of having curated content. Whereas the newspaper, tv and radio were the gatekeepers before, we saw the world as they wanted. Now it will be the world the way the algorithms (again written by humans) would be filtering what they think. Probably not the all inclusive answer, but could be part of the situation.
There is the notion that crowd sourcing should do this. Aka the masses basically filter it themselves and the cream will ride to the top, and the bad stuff will go to the abyss. This is also tough, it does allow things that mass media and others hid, its not like we were not racist before the internet, it was just less visible, but humans can game that system. Just look at times that people have an “internet vote.” One of the classics is when John Scott got voted into the NHL all star game. He then ended up being MVP in a feel good story, but it seemed more of a joke that he got in.
So funny humans game a known system (vote) and also try to game algorithms, so how do you fix the internet. Maybe the question should be how to we fix ourselves. It is not the internet nor the rules that are broken, but more how do we work on being better human beings. Our problems existed before the internet, the internet just bubbled it to the service. I am not saying we should become policing of others, nor should we act always in “cancel culture,” but more we should look at ourselves, and of course our kids and work to end the problems. Don’t teach hate, racism, learn to understand that science isn’t perfect (but listen to it,) chose to read items that don’t confirm our biases and learn empathy for people are not like you. Yes, this answer is not a law, it’s not a pill, it won’t happen overnight, but our problems didn’t happen over night and blaming anyone but ourselves won’t solve it. This blog has always been about getting better yourself, and this problem is one that follows that pattern. Altering 230 won’t make the evil we see disappear, it will just shift it..
This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free. I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them
This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book. With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path. I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content. I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip. I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog.