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Social Media is Lowering the Quality of Our Information, Say Ranking Digital Rights Panelists

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in July 2009 by Brian Solis used with permission

May 27, 2020 — Current social media algorithms and big tech tactics are making our information less reliable and our discourse less productive amid the coronavirus, said participants on a Ranking Digital Rights webinar Wednesday.

Nathalie Maréchal, senior policy analyst at Ranking Digital Rights, said that tech companies do not have an incentive to distribute the most reliable information. Rather, the algorithms used by big tech only serve to reinforce presuppositions held by their users.

It can be challenging to regulate potentially malicious content because doing so requires that “we all have the same definition of what is true,” Maréchal added.

Large social media platforms like Twitter have faced numerous complaints about their algorithms in the past, and while CEOs like Jack Dorsey have proposed potential solutions, the problem persists.

Screenshot from New America webinar

Maréchal suggested legislation that would hold tech companies who host ads on their websites to the same standard as television and print ads. The Honest Ads Act, sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would force ad platforms to go to “reasonable efforts” to make sure that foreign actors are not behind the ads they host.

“Passing the honest ads act is a total no-brainer and should have happened a long time ago,” Maréchal said.

Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia agreed. The online world should reflect the physical one, he said, in that it is equally wrong to lie to individuals for personal gain.

“Really, there should be no difference between the offline, rights-respecting world, and the one that exists online,” he added.

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