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The president of the United States and one of America’s most powerful companies are like wives stuck in an argument about dirty gloves: they are avoiding the real problem.
Over the past week, President Biden and Facebook have been at war over words over vaccine misinformation. Each side took an extreme position that distracted them and us from one issue deep: Americans are so divided that it is difficult to face our problems. We have seen this with epidemics, climate change, violent crime and more.
For all of us, our elected leaders and the technology companies that mediate our discourses, I want everyone to be able to find common ground so that they can be glued to what they can do.
To pull back the hateful match: President Biden said late last week that Internet networks like Facebook are killing people because they believe they are not doing enough to spread misleading information about Covid-19 or stop the virus vaccines. Facebook has hit back, saying it is helping save lives by expanding information on the official coronavirus, saying the White House is trying to blame it for losing its vaccination targets.
President Biden turned to his provocative language, but the White House continued to do more on Facebook, including providing information about the prevalence of coronavirus misinformation on social networks. My colleague Sheera Frankl reports that Facebook doesn’t really have this data, in part because the company hasn’t tried hard to find out.
Still tired? I am my former colleague Charlie Vazelle who gave this “a great example of social media-influenced and flattened speeches that are poisoning us all.”
Both Facebook and the White House are a little bit true and false, as my colleague Cecilia Kang said on the Daily this week.
Towards the White House, officials began with the Surgeon General’s nuanced suggestions for improving health information, including recommendations from government officials and social media companies. It was basically forgotten after the president and other officials started their un-nuanced accusations on Facebook.
Facebook is also a little bit true and false. Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview released Thursday that if the crime is more than zero, the police don’t consider the police department a failure, which means Facebook can’t be expected to get rid of every piece of bad information or provocation for violence. That’s a valid point, and it raises questions about how Zuckerberg and the rest of us consider the acceptable level of misinformation and other disrespectful behavior on the site and how the company measures success.
But if Facebook does more to acknowledge the truth of the discomfort, it will help: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter will play a key role in publicizing And Giving false information to the public. It would also help if the company told out loud what Shera reported – that it did not know the prevalence of misleading coronavirus information on its social network and could not answer questions from the White House.
Analyzing it will help improve our collective understanding of how information is spread online, such as Facebook’s (delayed and hesitant) self-assessment of Russia’s publicity, 201 U.S. Improved our collective knowledge about elections, foreign influence campaigns.
But if Facebook tells us tomorrow how much misleading information is being spread about the coronavirus, Americans will still argue about the meaning of the data and what to do about it.
And we will repeat the same battles over who is blaming for false information, limiting freedom of expression and controlling what is said on their sites, whether the social platform is doing too much or too little.
The basic problem is that we have very little common land. We all disagree on how much to focus on the virus that killed more than 600,000 Americans or how to strike a balance between preventive measures that have disrupted people’s lives and the economy. We cannot agree on whether to slow down climate change, and are unwilling to deal with the consequences collectively. It seems that we can only agree on one thing that the other side cannot be trusted.
Is it the fault of the social media companies’ business models and algorithms, the people trying to get emotional, the irresponsible politicians playing with our emotions, or the fear of getting sick or destitute? Yes.
It should not let anyone or any company hook to nurture an atmosphere of mistrust. But there is no simple answer to what misinformation researcher Renee Diresta has said to the whole problem of society.
That’s why the days of strife between the White House and Facebook are nowhere to be found. We fix on points like arguments and details like missing data, and ignore the much bigger picture. We can’t agree on anything important. We don’t trust each other. That is the real issue we need to address.
Before we go
Rich class in space: At one time the Internet was the only realm of big government – until technology executives made it home to billions. Now technologists like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk want to do the same for space, my colleagues David Streitfeld and Erin Woo write.
Related: Jacob Bernstein says the Amazon founder’s spaceflight this week made Bezos “Dorian Gray of Darkness.”
Get ready to fix your own tractor! (If you want.) The Federal Trade Commission voted to uphold the “right to repair” principle that manufacturers of smartphones, home appliances and farm appliances should not prohibit people from buying parts and manuals for product repairs. Big companies, including Apple Pal and John Deere, have cost people and the planet by tightening control over who can fix their products.
See only bears: Insider says we all deserve the bear’s live web feed in doing bear things.
Embrace for this
He is a horse. Wearing horse suspenders. Made from human blues.
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