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The momentum of unfettered capitalism is to make every last cent of profit. Titans of industry like winning as measured by profits and power and corporations are set up and run to increase both. But most industries sooner or later have little variation in how they can maximize profits such that that last, say, ten percent of profit potential remains elusive. But when the tobacco companies figured out back in the 60's how to manipulate the formula of their cigarettes to increase their addictiveness, the processed food makers weren't far behind. Social media has followed that formula well, and their algorithms spike our outrage to the same insidious effect. That extra few percent of profit from staying "engaged" works out to be hundreds of billions of dollars.

Social good never stood a chance.

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Nice post :) Regarding the API, Control Panel that gives users more control... People can already opt out of social media and/or control who they follow. I just don't see those that stick around and continue to consume all that is bad to utilize such filters/controls. They clearly want the tribal/divisive content. At this point, it seems we need K-12 to include education on social media, tribalism, etc. Society as a whole needs to change its attitudes. Attacking the social media companies is fine, but IMO just a Band-Aid to what really ails society.

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But controlling who you follow isn't the same as controlling which tweets/posts you see. The algorithm intervenes. And, sure, you can opt out of social media, but then there are lots of good things you miss. We shouldn't be forced to choose between the current version of social media and no social media at all.

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Hmmm.... I don't see posts by anyone other than people I follow and their friends and paid ads. Once in a while I do need to block one of there friends. But again, my main point is that we as people need to change and it needs to start very early in childhood. I'm not against more control over the algorithms, I just don't think we should let that effort overshadow the bigger issue which is our social values.

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But the algorithms select what you see from your friends. It can bury a post or make sure it's at the top of your feed.

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This thoughtful piece makes one trite truth very obvious--it's all about the money. It's very clear that the main function of Facebook and allied social media is not to connect people to create a more benevolent society that transcends national borders but to generate profits no matter what.

With the modern monetary system stretching its tentacles everywhere, be it consumer credit, 401/403ks, or profits through investments, we're all (very rich and very poor alike) held hostage to an ideology that sees ever-increasing profits as the sole purpose of existence. Facebook and its morally deeply flawed founder are just one symptom of that--another just left the White House not long ago.

I think the idea to force Facebook (and Twitter) to change their algorithms definitely has merit, but it's rather cosmetic, and it doesn't really get at the deeper roots of the problems of social media giants, which by and large are kept afloat not only by our penchant for seeking distraction and the opportunity for highly targeted advertising but also by an economic paradigm that equates monetary profits with moral good.

I'd say without a thorough reexamination and debunking of the Friedman doctrine, which ties moral good and responsibility to the well-being of the stock market, not much will change. Too many people, across the political spectrum in the U.S., have (often subconsciously) bought into the idea that anyone who makes a fortune, especially through a publicly traded company, is an example of a paragon of virtue (and owner of well-deserved wealth).

It's a mindset that's more reminiscent of the Middle Ages, when people believed in the divine rights of kings and in alchemy that can turn lead into gold. The kings and alchemists are largely gone, but they found replacements in the form of an unlikely assortment of often very casually dressed, benign-looking billionaires, flanked by technology gurus and cultural apologists who assure us that although there are some bumps in the road, overall progress is inevitable and will lead us to a higher plane (wherever this might be).

I think untangling moral good and progress from conspicuous wealth and consumption will be a major task in this century--it'll be an essential component of averting the climate/environmental crisis, not to mention the spectre of an apocalypse wrought by forces that seek to divide and conquer (mainly for financial gains).

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Hey Bob, I remember way back when (2008), that I was amazed at ITunes ability to, via 'genius', play songs that perfectly fit my mood and mental state. Too include my circumstance. Has it gone too far? Probably. But, it's not Zuckerberg's fault. Nor yours or mine (or Trump's).

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I'm pretty clearly in the minority here, but these seem like ideas that would not end well if implemented. On the basis of a single study and Mark Zuckerbeg's past behavior we are going to have the government regulate how people run social media platforms? No thanks. Here are just a few of the reasons why:

1. Your proposals seem attractive, but lots of ideas that seem attractive turn out not to be so great when faced with the practical questions of how they are to be implemented and whether people actually value them. There is room to try such proposals, but as Facebook competitor in the market, not on the cheap as a government mandate.

2. The studies purporting to show deleterious effects of social media should be viewed with the same skepticism that we today view commentary about the deleterious effects of popular novels 100+ years ago. We should provide space for people to adapt to new platforms. People can change their behavior without having to force changes on the platforms.

3. These proposals probably are unconstitutional. They are effectively telling a platform that is all about speech how they must do their online version of editing. I can't imagine such a proposal applied to the NYT surviving for longer than 30 seconds.

4. This is Facebook's business and neither the general will nor the state should be telling them how to operate it absent compelling evidence of market failure. There is no such evidence here, only a complaint that they market is currently producing a result that you don't like.

5. We have no reason to believe that if we grant this regulatory power over social media to the state that the state will make better decisions that the market would have made in the absence of that regulation. Indeed given the incredibly poor feedback mechanisms and politicization inherent in government action (as compared to market results), we have every reason to believe the opposite is true. Is this a slippery slope argument? Kind of, but if its invalid, please explain principle that limits regulation to just the ones that you have proposed.

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Great blog post! A key thing I’m thinking about is why are Facebook/Twitter different from the printing press? (Of course they are different technologies but is “this time is different” really true?) Both spawned wars of religion but 200-300 years on from Gutenberg you’re not in favor of book burning/banning. I too am concerned about social media but the analogy is uncomfortably spot on. I would love to see you get Ben Thompson from Stratechery on to debate how to regulate these platforms/aggregators.

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Yes, I made the comparison between the printing press and the internet in my book Nonzero. In both cases the effect is both tribalizing and globalizing. e.g. the printing press helps break up the church into Catholic and Protestant (and many Protestant sects) but also helps all these parties extend the geographic extent of their reach.

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Another reminder that I need to read Nonzero and I think you’d enjoy Ben Thompson (second plug).

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yeah i've heard him on other podcasts--he's very smart.

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