This is the rule: You are not allowed to feel surprised at the state of things.
We’ve arrived at the sad, dumb point in history at which the only thing less surprising than acts of mass violence are the ways in which our planet’s mega information distributors muck everything up with ensuing frauds, hoaxes, and confusion. The problem is thoroughly identified: Facebook, Google, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter have the quality control of a yard sale and the scale of a 100,000 Walmarts. But despite all our railing and shaming, these companies have a major disincentive to reform: money.
In the wake of yet another American massacre, this time in Las Vegas, media scrutiny is aimed once more at Facebook, Google, and Twitter, for the same old reasons. The sites, time after time, and this time once more, served up algorithmic links to websites peddling deliberate lies and bottom-feeder misinformation. These companies provided an untold mass of online users with falsehoods posing as news resources, as is completely normal now and only noteworthy because it was pegged to a heinous national tragedy. The discussion will now swing from “This is bad” to “What can be done?”, and we can expect all the typically empty pro forma reassurance from Silicon Valley public relations offices. Don’t expect much more.
It is easy enough to confess the rule sucks, and that despite a pretense of not being surprised, habit and history teach that we might easily enough allow ourselves the obvious disappointment. At the same time, though, we have long known this is how it goes; what is good for society is bad for business.
At some point, though, this ought to suggest at least something about the business model.
Image note: Detail of frames from FLCL episode 5, “Brittle Bullet”.
Biddle, Sam. “Stop Expecting Facebook and Google to Curb Misinformation—It’s Great for Business”. The Intecept. 3 October 2017.