From recent actions I think that we must conclude that Facebook and Twitter have now explicitly acknowledged that their platforms are being used in ways they do not understand, are not able to manage, and without a doubt have an impact in elections. To most people this has been obvious for years, but they have hid behind many excuses to try and avoid any accountability. These two headlines are two days apart.
Oct 7: Facebook Widens Ban on Political Ads as Alarm Rises Over Election
Oct 9: Twitter Will Turn Off Some Features to Fight Election Misinformation
Both of these companies are finally admitting that they are not able to fix the problem here. They have built platforms that others have weaponized, and they are unable to fix it. I think it is important to highlight here that I think Kara Swisher has it right when she emphasizes that people are not abusing these platforms, they are using them exactly as they were intended to be used. Nobody has been hacked. These systems were built to surveil their users, catalog their interests, and then alter your intentions in the direction of an advertiser. The part nobody seems to have considered is that while some people want to sell you toothpaste, others may want to sell you a destabilized government or some deep state conspiracy theory.
The real question here is can they be fixed? If the flaw isn’t an abuse, but is instead an intended use, what is there to fix?
I am happy to see that we’ve finally left the realm of these for profit companies cloaking themselves in First Amendment rights and disavowing that they have any impact in something like an election. (Funny isn’t it that they certainly would be clear that they can get you to buy a different toothpaste though. Those T-Rex arms in full effect.)
I’m in the camp that for Facebook I don’t think there is a fix. I think there is a fatal component in their design and at the scale they are today it cannot be undone. Twitter on the hand I do think could be fixed. Make all accounts cost $5 or $10 a month. At that price bots go away. Get rid of the active users metric that makes them magically inept at finding bot accounts. Get rid of retweets without an additional comment. And clean up the dark corners filled with hate, racism and sexist garbage. Mostly Twitter is small enough that it could still be fixed, and the core user base is addicted enough that they would pay and if 90% of of the garbage accounts went away none of the core users would know anyway.