(Image adapted from Nick Clegg article)

But Who Should Control the Algorithm, Nick Clegg? Not Facebook …Us!

Facebook’s latest attempt to justify their stance on disinformation and other harms, and their plans to make minor improvements, actually points the reason those improvements are not nearly enough — and can never be. They need to make far more radical moves to free our feeds, as I have proposed previously.

Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, put out an article yesterday that provides a telling counterpoint to those proposals. You and the Algorithm: It Takes Two to Tango defends Facebook in most respects, but accepts the view that users need more transparency and control:

He goes on to describe laudable changes Facebook has just made, with further moves in that direction intended.

But the question is: how this can be more than Band-Aids covering the deeper problem? Seeking to put the onus on us — “We need to look at ourselves in the mirror…” — he goes on (emphasis added):

Exactly the point of these proposals! No private company can be permitted to attempt that, even under the most careful regulation — especially in a democracy. That is especially true for a dominant social media service. Further, slow-moving regulation cannot be effective in an age of dynamic change. We need a free market in filters from a diversity of providers — for to choose from. Twitter seems to understand that; it seems clear that Facebook does not.

Don’t try to tango with a dancing bear

As I explain in my proposal:

What I and others have proposed — and that Jack Dorsey of Twitter has advocated — is to spin out the filtering of our newsfeeds (and other recommendations of content, users, and groups) to a multitude of new “middleware” services that work with the platforms, but that users can choose from in an open market, and mix and match as they like.

“Agreeing on what constitutes the collective good” has always been best done by the collective human effort of an open market of ideas. Algorithms can aid humans in doing that, but we, the people, must decide which algorithms, with what parameters and what objective functions. These open filtering proposals explain how and why. What Clegg suggest is good advice as far as it goes, but, ultimately, too much like trying to tango with a dancing bear.

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