Saturday, October 06, 2018

Not everyone agrees that Facebook should be held responsible for the illiteracy of many of its users (and vulnerability to "the Russians")

Tyler Cowen on Bloomberg has a somewhat dated (Nov. 2017) perspective on Facebook’s vulnerability to foreign manipulation: “Would you blame the phone for Russian interference?” The tagline is “No?  Then why is Facebook under such pressure from Congress?

Well, Facebook does make its money from algorithmically channeling content to users matched up with advertisers.  So it sounds reasonable that Facebook should take some responsibility for knowing the authenticity of the source of the content.

In fact, Facebook’s long-standing policy of “real names” for accounts would seem to have been intended to prevent this sort of thing, but it did not. In that context, the Cambridge mess is particularly shocking.

Thomas Frank of the Guardian has maintained that Facebook’s problems castigate liberals as much as the right. Jessica Guynn of USA Today reports on this FB tool to see if you've been fooled by the Russians, story here

Of course, as we know, Siva Hyanathan’s book “Anti-Social Media” maintains that Facebook’s basic paradigm and business model, as a tool, made exploitation by autocrats almost inevitable.
We’re back also to the question as to whether writers and speakers need to “care” more about their less literate readers as people.  Facebook manipulations did not fool people with well-developed critical thinking skills as individuals (and unfortunately undergraduate colleges are not teaching these as they used to, with all the speech codes, trigger warnings and safe spaces).  The people most vulnerable were indeed the masses, “the people” in a populist sense, those who get their information from social structures around them (mostly families), who depend more on intimacy (it strikes me that Alex Honnold in “Free Solo” presents an ironic “test case” on self-direction vs. relationships with others) and whose lives are more locally centered.
In any case, Facebook, as we have seen from recent draconian changes in its political ad approval process, is suddenly very sensitive to the issue of the gullibility of "ordinary users" and is trying to push more actual personal interaction and actual fund raising rather than just "news propaganda" that doesn't ask its users to do anything (but wait). 

There are a lot of recent reports about how little American millennials understand history that occurred more than a generation ago – and that makes them more prone to collectivism (see American Experiment ).  For example, many don’t understand how the draft affected the Vietnam generation – and don’t want to hear it mentioned today for fear it comes back. 
The young people will win – but only the well informed ones.  David Hogg as his own individual person does have great critical thinking skills, as do his best friends.  Not all his followers do, however.

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