Facebook and other tech giants were again dragged before congress this week to testify and explain the ways that its algorithms can be abused to spread harmful misinformation. Executives from Facebook were also grilled about the potentially addictive properties of the platform, and how it could be increasing polarization in our society.
During the hearing, many of the lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy and technology seemed skeptical that Facebook is motivated by anything other than pure engagement. Several expert witnesses also reinforced that notion, claiming that some of Facebook’s harmful effects are actually baked into its business model.
“Their business model is to create a society that is addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed,” said Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. “While they can try to skim the major harm off the top and do what they can — and we want to celebrate that, we really do — it’s just fundamentally, they’re trapped in something that they can’t change.”
While Facebook has plenty of excuses for why this isn’t the case, it’s hard to dispute that the company relies heavily on engagement to collect more of our data. And if it drums up engagement through false or malicious content, the company is benefitting — even if it doesn’t want to be.
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