Law in the Internet Society

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AhiranisCastilloFirstEssay 4 - 07 Jan 2024 - Main.EbenMoglen
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The Profitable Pursuit of Ignorance: The Commodification of Human Attention and the Spread of Misinformation

-- By AhiranisCastillo - 19 Oct 2023

In a world where information is at our fingertips, one might expect a universal commitment to truth. But the reality is quite the opposite. In fact, the modern spread of misinformation raises profound concerns for anyone with that assumption, with falsehoods often eclipsing the truth for the sake of tech and media companies raising capital. Misinformation has become incredibly profitable, and whether the gain is financial or social status, there are individuals and entities motivated to increase and perpetuate ignorance over genuine knowledge.

Social media platforms, the modern epicenter of online interactions, have found a way to monetize the human desire for connection and information. The strategy employed by these platforms is simple yet effective: keep users engaged for as long as possible. They profit by commodifying human attention. To that end, these platforms utilize algorithms that make users vulnerable to manipulation by misinformation spreaders. If a user exhibits even the slightest interest in a particular narrative or piece of information, the algorithm ensures they are continually exposed to it. In their quest for profit, these platforms prioritize user engagement over accuracy, creating a breeding ground for the spread of false narratives. Consequently, users may become convinced of the accuracy of a particular narrative, even if it stands far from the truth.

The consequences of this profit-driven model are far-reaching and multi-faceted. Trust in traditional sources of information, such as news outlets, experts, and institutions, erodes as users grow increasingly skeptical. Social media algorithms contribute significantly to polarization by reinforcing existing beliefs and limiting exposure to diverse perspectives, thereby hindering constructive dialogue within society.

Shoshana Zuboff's "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism" provides valuable insights into the dynamics shaping this landscape, particularly within the realm of social media platforms. Zuboff's analysis sheds light on the unintended role these platforms play in the spread of misinformation and the erosion of trust in reliable information sources. In her assessment of what the remedies may be, Zuboff proposes a few:

1. Data Ownership and Control: Individuals must have greater ownership and control over their personal data. This involves establishing legal frameworks that give users the right to know what data is collected about them, the ability to access that data, and the power to control how it is used.

2. Digital Declaration of Rights: Zuboff proposes the creation of a Digital Declaration of Rights, outlining the fundamental rights that individuals should have in the digital age. This declaration would include rights related to privacy, consent, and protection from manipulation.

3. Anti-Monopoly Measures: The book discusses the concentration of power among tech giants and suggests that antitrust measures may be necessary to address monopolistic practices. Breaking up large tech companies or implementing measures to prevent anti-competitive behavior is proposed as a means to foster competition and innovation.

4. Public Awareness and Education: Zuboff emphasizes the importance of raising public awareness about the practices of surveillance capitalism. Educating individuals about the implications of data collection and surveillance on their lives is seen as a crucial step in fostering informed consent and supporting digital literacy.

5. Digital Unions and Activism: The book acknowledges the potential for collective action and advocacy to challenge the practices of surveillance capitalism. Zuboff suggests that individuals, as well as workers within tech companies, can play a role in pushing back against unethical practices through activism and forming digital unions.

These are all but a few of the prescriptions proposed in addressing the vast issues that social media poses for our society. While advocating for a prioritization of truth over profit, it is important to acknowledge the challenges inherent in such a shift. A nuanced approach is needed, one that seeks a balance between profitability and ethical responsibility. This could involve gradual adjustments to algorithms, incorporating mechanisms to flag and fact-check information, and promoting transparency in content moderation.

Social media platforms should gradually reorient their priorities, placing greater emphasis on the dissemination of accurate information and fostering healthy online discourse over relentless profit pursuits. This shift requires a conscious effort to redesign algorithms, ensuring that accuracy and truth are prioritized in content delivery.

Simultaneously, users bear a crucial responsibility in navigating the digital landscape. The cultivation of critical thinking and media literacy becomes paramount. Users must be empowered to discern between credible information and misinformation, actively seeking diverse perspectives to counteract the echo chamber effect perpetuated by algorithmic content curation.

This collective effort is indispensable for restoring a shared commitment to truth in the digital age. Social media platforms, as influential arbiters of information, must acknowledge their role in shaping public discourse and act responsibly. This involves not only tweaking algorithms but also considering the ethical implications of their business models.

The age of misinformation driven by profit motives demands a reevaluation of priorities in the digital realm. Zuboff's insights guide us in understanding the intricacies of surveillance capitalism and its inadvertent consequences. By fostering a collective commitment to truth, social media platforms and users alike can contribute to a more informed, connected, and resilient society in the face of the challenges posed by the digital age.

I'm still confused by the direction of this argument. The platforms give away junk food that rots the mind, because doing so makes them a great deal of money. Your suggestion is that they should want to make less money. But you don't have to use them. If we wait for surveillance capitalism to suppress itself by ceasing to want what it wants---rather than freeing ourselves from the platforms instantaneously, as you can do---are we cheating ourselves irrationally? If the wealth of the platforms depends on the parasite with the mind of God, which is also now being also assisted in infecting the human race by despotisms that find it as useful for reducing freedom as the platforms find it for increasing their wealth, aren't you also going to wind up committed to asking those despotisms please just to want less power?

This doesn't seem a promising line of thought for a lawyer. So perhaps in order to advocate for or fight for freedom in the 21st century it will be necessary to use software differently, to learn, teach, and conduct our technological lives the way you want, rather than the way the platforms offer. That's the argument I am advancing. You may not agree. Out of the disagreement a terrific next draft could be made.


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Revision 4r4 - 07 Jan 2024 - 18:59:19 - EbenMoglen
Revision 3r3 - 01 Dec 2023 - 18:02:42 - AhiranisCastillo
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