The anatomy of social media’s mad-making machine

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Facebook and other social media companies didn’t cause America’s major political divide, but they did widen it and push it to violence. a report Released Monday from New York University.

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why it matters: Congress, the Biden administration and governments around the world are moving from blame-sharing to choosing punishments and measures to curb the influence of online platforms and fight misinformation.

running news: Paul Barrett, deputy director of NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, and his co-authors reviewed more than 50 social science studies and interviewed dozens of academics, policy experts, activists and current and former industry people.

  • They found that while social media platforms do not cause political polarization, they have intensified it.
  • “Social media is a mechanism for spreading false and disinformation that is fueling the fires of political polarisation.” Barrett told Nerdshala. He said social platforms erode trust and democratic norms in ways that have undermined America’s response to the pandemic and acceptance of the 2020 election results.

On the other end: Facebook takes steps to dial back the amount of political content in its News Feed reported his efforts To fight polarization in a blog post last year.

  • Nick Clegg, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs, argued It is not in Facebook’s interest to “push users” toward extremist content this year.
  • Clegg also highlighted studies about polarization, saying the results are mixed, with a break from Facebook not reducing one’s negative feelings about the opposite political party.
  • “The evidence that exists does not support the idea that social media, or the filter bubbles it is supposed to be, are clear drivers of polarization,” Clegg wrote.

yes but: Barrett’s team said Study cited by Clegg shows that staying away from Facebook reduces polarization on policy issues rather than partisan affiliations, and other research indicates that Facebook’s influence on polarization is increasing.

  • “It’s important to take away the message that Facebook is trying to project that we can’t really tell whether social media use has anything to do with political division and partisan hatred,” Barrett said. “It just doesn’t match the facts.”
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What will happen next: The report offers several recommendations for both the government and the platform. The government, it says, should:

  • Mandate greater disclosure of companies ranking, recommendation and removal algorithms;
  • Give the Federal Trade Commission new powers to create industry standards;
  • And invest in alternative social media options like PBS for the Internet.

The report also recommends That platform:

  • Transparently adjust the algorithm to discourage polarization;
  • increase the size of their content moderation teams;
  • And hide the number of “likes” and shares to prevent rewarding polarizing content.


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