Reads 10/28/21: Pavlov’s Newfeed

Will Oremus in The Washington Post writes about some proposals floating around congress to “Regulate the Facebook Algorithm”.

This idea stood out from the pack to me:

To some critics, that would be a win. Roddy Lindsay, a former Facebook data scientist who worked on the company’s algorithms, argued in a New York Times op-ed this week that Section 230 reform should go further. He proposes eliminating the liability shield for any content that social platforms amplify via personalized recommendation software. The idea echoes Haugen’s own suggestion. Both Lindsay and Haugen say companies such as Facebook would respond by abandoning their recommendation algorithms and reverting to feeds that simply show users every post from the people they follow.

I think “personalized recommendation software” on social media, and even in search is doing more harm than good. And, although there’s a risk with a strictly chronological feed that people will be exposed to negativity anyway, so what? At least people would understand it. Why what’s in front of them is in front of them. The status quo is we’re not supposed to understand it.

There were some articles floating around yesterday with some specifics about some of the formulae.

When you read about that, it’s important to remember these features are constantly changing, as is the formulae. And the most important thing to consider, at least to me, is that these companies are manipulating people and their behavior whether they’re conscious of it or not. To me, it’s not that they’re nudging you towards positive or negative behavior, they’re nudging you because they’re making money demonstrating that they can nudge you in all kinds of ways that go beyond simply trying to sell you something. This stuff is rewiring people’s brains.

Here’s a link to the NYTimes op-ed from Roddy Lindsay referenced above.

Also, I know I write a lot about this stuff, and I tend to repackage a lot of points that people like Jaron Lanier and Tim Wu have expressed, and even written entire books about already. In defense of that: How can I not when social media and personalized recommendation software has such a huge impact on all of us? As well as how dominant of the marketplace, and the world, just a handful of companies have become?

I gotta add: It is refreshing these days to be reading a lot more about that in newspapers, and that congress and the current administration seems to have a better grasp lately of these issues and they’re trying to reign it in. How successful will they be? I don’t know. But I assure you, I’ll be “following”.