@Jack in the Congress 3/25/21

My quick take on yesterday’s tech CEO Congressional hearing on disinformation is that the two best ways forward now seem very slightly less of a long shot (dysfunctional as much of questioning was):

  1. Congress seems increasingly convinced that an end to the addictive ad model may have to be mandated.
  2. Twitter’s prominent support for opening up the filtering to free our feeds gives that important strategy increased credibility (even though Congress seems to not yet have a clue about it).

We are still very far from any agreement on specific actions, but either of these two directions could make a real difference — and doing both would go far to limit disinformation. Neither is easy, but both are doable.

On the ad-model

Much of the concern seems focused on eliminate targeting of ads (as Gilad Edelman reports in Wired) — that could help, but would leave the overall drive for addictive engagement intact. It would also limit the value that advertising could have, if done right.

I have suggested a more market-based solution to advertising using “reverse metering” that negotiates payment to users for their attention and data. That would make the user the customer of the advertiser, motivating them to make ads be relevant, non-intrusive, and privacy protective.

A much broader elimination or reduction of advertising in favor of user-supported models would be more effective in eliminating perverse incentives to addict users with bad content. I have proposed innovative (and award-winning) models to make user funding effective, fair, and affordable — as well as a strategy for “ratcheting” toward that goal.

On freeing our feeds

Oddly enough, Jack Dorsey of Twitter is offering what may be the best, most powerful, and most achievable solution, but this remains largely ignored in legislative and policy circles. His Bluesky initiative proposes “…giving more people choice around what relevance algorithms they’re using, ranking algorithms they’re using. You can imagine a more market-driven and marketplace approach to algorithms.” He highlighted it in his prepared testimony — and a tweetstorm sent during the hearings that could be the best material of the day.

I proposed such a solution years ago, and summarized its potential in my recent post, Making Social Media Serve Society (before learning of Bluesky):

Social media oligarchs have seduced us — giving us bicycles for the mind that they have spent years and billions engineering to “engage” our attention. The problem is that they insist on steering those bicycles for us, because they get rich selling advertising that they precisely target to us. Democracy and common sense require that we, the people, keep control of our marketplace of ideas. It is time to wrestle back the steering of our bicycles, so that we can guide our attention where we want.

Giving users an open market in filtering services that work within the platforms is the best way to do that — by enabling competition that stimulates diversity and innovation to meet user needs. A marketplace of ideas functions well only if users control for themselves whether they see “undesirable” items, as they individually define that. Instead of expecting platforms to be responsible for managing the unruly beast of what ideas are posted, we must empower markets for filters that manage how ideas are consumed. Demand, not censorship (nor advertising), should control the flow of information to those who want it.

I since posted brief updates on this strategy, citing Bluesky and others who have made similar proposals, and will publish a fully updated and expanded article on this soon.

Yes or no?

And, on the dysfunction in Congress, @Jack’s “Yes or No” poll during his testimony (screenshot at top) was a testament (and won him a Congressional kudo for multitasking). Will the answer be yes, oh magic eight ball? Sources say maybe.