No reality czars, please


Reality CZARS, no. Plain reality, yes. As long as it doesn’t suck.

No reality czars, please /img/alternative-facts.jpg

According to some polls, in the US more than 70 percent of Republicans believe Trump legitimately won the 2020 election.

This begs the question of “how to unite ANY country in which millions of people have chosen to create their own version of reality”. A New York Times journalist a number of experts how to solve this Reality Crisis, that is how to “help fix our truth-challenged information ecosystem, or at least prevent it from getting worse”. Some proposals are extremely, comfortingly obvious and prosaic. Thanks for those. Some other answers were… a bit weak, I would say. Here, I take the liberty to excerpt, rearrange and then briefly comment three of those answers.

1: Appoint a “reality czar.”

Several expert recommended a “cross-agency task force to tackle disinformation and domestic extremism… led by something like a “reality czar.”

That is, instead of many parallel, disunited efforts to fight misinformation about, say, Covid-19 and voting conspiracies, “a centralized task force could coordinate a single, strategic response”.

This task force could also meet regularly with tech platforms, to push for structural changes that could help those companies tackle their own extremism and misinformation problems”.

2: Audit the algorithms.

Several experts recommended that the Biden administration push for much more transparency into the inner workings of “the black-box algorithms that… platforms use to rank feeds, recommend content and usher users into private groups, many of which have been responsible for amplifying conspiracy theories and extremist views.”

“Given their current antitrust issues… social networks might respond to [“nudges”] in the direction of transparency.”

What are the pros and cons here?

No reality czars, please /img/ministry-of-truth.jpg

Reality Czars? How anything called, or anyway presented as a “Reality Czar” would be perceived differently from Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth”, thus making the problem worse, honestly escapes me. As far as pushing platforms for structural changes goes… that has nothing to do with misinformation. It is something that should happen anyway, but is not, to tackle all the other problems caused by toxic business models that stifle real innovation, even if no alternative facts” were amplified. Also, or above all: responses are just that, responses. That is, reactions to damage already happening. More on all this below.

Algorithm audits? The main problem with any auditing of algorithms is the one I explained three years ago: governments can really understand and evaluate how those algorithms work only if they also analyze ALL the REAL data the platforms process, in the same moments. Only, that is, if they have full, real time access to all the private data that all users dump into their social media accounts. Is that acceptable?

Let’s now look at by far the best of all the solutions collected by the NYT, if not the only real one:

3: Avoid “terrorist” traps, fix people’s problems.

Categorizing all extremists as “domestic terrorists” could backfire” “A paranoid retiree who spends all day reading QAnon forums isn’t the same as an armed militia leader, and we should delineate one from the other.”

“Tech platforms alone couldn’t bring back the millions of already radicalized Americans, nor is teaching media literacy a silver bullet to prevent dangerous ideas from taking hold.”

“Most of the experts agreed that the most effective thing the Biden administration could do… would be to address the underlying problems that drove them there in the first place.”

[ANY government] wishing to “bring extremists and conspiracy theorists back to reality… can start by making that reality worth coming back to.”

Of course

The last section above could, and should have easily been the only content of the article. Please behold the almost total absence of any high-tech in it. The best and only way to solve problems created by ignorance and misuse of technology is not more technology.

As far as the USA are concerned, maybe the first thing they should fix, even with some “Czar”, is management of voting. If so many Americans believe that Trump won is also because the US, since well before social media, make trusting elections way, way harder than any other “democracy”.

In general, until the USA is either proud, or unaware, of “unrelated” primacies like these, and any other country just tries to beat the US in races like those… alternative realities will remain a thing.

Finally, since the experts mentioned antitrust as one way to put pressures on social media platforms… allow me to remind that any version of just “breaking up Facebook” would be useless. The only NOT “high-tech” measures needed to solve these, and several other huge problems, could be these:

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