Research by a San Francisco-based analytics firm found that conversations about election fraud dropped 73 percent across popular social media sites in the week after President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter.
(TNS) — Research by the
Unfortunately, social media sites have by far the largest audiences for both legitimate news and lies. Twitter has more than 330 million users,
Large audiences attract advertisers as well as politicians. In 2019, advertising was the main source of Google's more than $160 billion in revenue. There aren't many better ways to increase media revenue than to publicize claims like "the election was rigged." But the problem isn't that posters lie, it's how easy Twitter and others make it to distribute their lies to hundreds of millions of people and make a lot of money doing it.
Because social media sites have little incentive to curtail the distribution of false news or related conspiracy theories, effective legislation is desperately needed, legislation that avoids possible unintended consequences such as suppression of free speech or the violation of privacy — a formidable challenge but one worth conquering before lies foment even more outrageous invasions of state and federal facilities or the overthrow of legal elections.
Many have identified the alarming misuse of social media, but workable fixes are scarce. This is partly because of the sheer volume of material posted every day. According to Statista, 30,000 hours of new content was uploaded to YouTube every hour in 2019, before the pandemic left many at home with even more time for social media. YouTube couldn't hire enough people to merely view the uploads, much less verify their content. But automated scanners can flag suspicious key words and phrases that require the attention of human analysts. Google's impressive search and translation capabilities indicate substantial means to do exactly that, though privacy concerns must be addressed.
Closing the accounts of prolific originators of election-related misinformation showed how they and other problematic posters can be identified and throttled. In an ironic twist, both the sites responsible and those they disempowered are protected by the First Amendment, which restricts
Legislators must concentrate on forcing media sites to use tools, existing or newly invented, to identify dangerous posts and prolific originators of lies so that the damage they do can be limited, even if that means less revenue. There are no clean, easy solutions. All the more reason tech companies and the federal government must join to find acceptable solutions before it's too late. I am not confident in the willingness or ability of either to do that — media sites for financial reasons, governments for structural and political reasons.
It's easy, and appropriate, to criticize social media for the mess its big companies helped create and have done so little to fix. Much less attention has been devoted to understanding why people have been so readily misled. Though the causes are diverse, one stands out: Many people simply don't trust politicians. Trust in government has been in a relentless decline for more than half a century, and for good reasons.
When all most politicians seem to care about is raising money so that they can retain power through re-election, the country is ripe for a demagogue to claim, as Trump did, he would "drain the swamp." Even though he added only bigger alligators, several of whom he had to pardon just before leaving office, only about a third of the population believes he'd done a good job in that final Gallup poll. Let's hope President
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