What if You Knew What You Were Missing on Social Media?

Article by Julia Angwin: “Social media can feel like a giant newsstand, with more choices than any newsstand ever. It contains news not only from journalism outlets, but also from your grandma, your friends, celebrities and people in countries you have never visited. It is a bountiful feast.

But so often you don’t get to pick from the buffet. On most social media platforms, algorithms use your behavior to narrow in on the posts you are shown. If you send a celebrity’s post to a friend but breeze past your grandma’s, it may display more posts like the celebrity’s in your feed. Even when you choose which accounts to follow, the algorithm still decides which posts to show you and which to bury.

There are a lot of problems with this model. There is the possibility of being trapped in filter bubbles, where we see only news that confirms our existing beliefs. There are rabbit holes, where algorithms can push people toward more extreme content. And there are engagement-driven algorithms that often reward content that is outrageous or horrifying.

Yet not one of those problems is as damaging as the problem of who controls the algorithms. Never has the power to control public discourse been so completely in the hands of a few profit-seeking corporations with no requirements to serve the public good.

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, which he renamed X, has shown what can happen when an individual pushes a political agenda by controlling a social media company.

Since Mr. Musk bought the platform, he has repeatedly declared that he wants to defeat the “woke mind virus” — which he has struggled to define but largely seems to mean Democratic and progressive policies. He has reinstated accounts that were banned because of the white supremacist and antisemitic views they espoused. He has banned journalists and activists. He has promoted far-right figures such as Tucker Carlson and Andrew Tate, who were kicked off other platforms. He has changed the rules so that users can pay to have some posts boosted by the algorithm, and has purportedly changed the algorithm to boost his own posts. The result, as Charlie Warzel said in The Atlantic, is that the platform is now a “far-right social network” that “advances the interests, prejudices and conspiracy theories of the right wing of American politics.”

The Twitter takeover has been a public reckoning with algorithmic control, but any tech company could do something similar. To prevent those who would hijack algorithms for power, we need a pro-choice movement for algorithms. We, the users, should be able to decide what we read at the newsstand…(More)”.

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