A Thought on Defending America’s Minds

I had an interesting conversation over dinner with a friend who happens to work in tech as well. I have often joked that Facebook has destroyed the world. What I mean by that specifically is that it seems that the echo-chamber effect of self-reinforcing technology wherein users are (1) provided with content determined by an algorithm to be favorable to them, (2) able to block people that disagree with them, and (3) provided with confirmation bias through searching for agreements has created an environment wherein meaningful discourse is impossible. It has created hyper-sensitive people with vitriolic anger. I would go so far as to say that it’s a significant contributor to populism (in combination with a number of economic factors, of course… let’s call it a catalyst).

We cannot (and should not) ban “fake news” or even hateful speech. However, what we could reasonably ban would be behavioral targeting and personalization. What this means is that a person’s behavior online could not be used to further drive their behavior online. It means that if a person were to go on YouTube and look at a puppy video then the next time they went on YouTube they would not be swarmed with pet videos; they would get the same home page experience as everyone else. Of course, this would break much of online advertising as we know it. I do not think that anyone would consider this to be a terrible thing except for Google and Facebook and the other companies that make a living by hoarding personal information in order to market things to consumers that analysts have determined that they will like based on the specific cohort(s) that they have been grouped into.

It also means that when viewing a news website, users will see the same content as everyone else… no more personalized newsfeeds. I believe that these changes would go a long way to improve people’s interactions with one another. I suspect that the government’s intervention in making this a law could be constitutionally defensible… I imagine there is some argument to be made in here that this represents a greater freedom of speech. However, even if the government never had the appetite to step into this, individuals could make these choices for themselves by opting out of systems that use personalization and behavioral targeting (i.e. basically anything “free” on the internet). It sounds wild, although it is not overreaching to say that this could make the world a better place.

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