Originally published October 20, 2019
This week Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech in which he extolled “giving everyone a voice” and fighting “to uphold a wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible.” That sounds great, of course! Freedom of expression is a cornerstone, if not the cornerstone, of liberal democracy. Who could be opposed to that?
The problem is that Facebook doesn’t offer free speech; it offers free amplification. No one would much care about anything you posted to Facebook, no matter how false or hateful, if people had to navigate to your particular page to read your rantings, as in the very early days of the site.
But what people actually read on Facebook is what’s in their News Feed … and its contents, in turn, are determined not by giving everyone an equal voice, and not by a strict chronological timeline. What you read on Facebook is determined entirely by Facebook’s algorithm, which elides much — censors much, if you wrongly think the News Feed is free speech — and amplifies little.
What is amplified? Two forms of content. For native content, the algorithm optimizes for engagement. This in turn means people spend more time on Facebook, and therefore more time in the company of that other form of content which is amplified: paid advertising.
Of course this isn’t absolute. As Zuckerberg notes in his speech, Facebook works to stop things like hoaxes and medical misinformation from going viral, even if they’re otherwise anointed by the algorithm. But he has specifically decided that Facebook will not attempt to stop paid political misinformation from going viral.
The info is here.
Editor's note: Facebook is one of the most defective products that millions of Americans use everyday.