Last week Attorney Generals from eight states announced they were investigating Facebook for antitrust violations.
At almost the same time, the United States Justice Department kicked off an antitrust investigation into Google.
We think the moves are long overdue.
To understand the destructive role the aforementioned duopoly played in the unraveling of American institutions (small things like shared reality, democracy, elections, a free press, research institutions, civil discourse), we point you to the September issue of Scientific American - “Truth, Lies & Uncertainty: Searching for Reality in Unreal Times.”
It’s a great primer to help you understand how these platforms empowered bad actors to weaponize information; sow discord; exploit social divisions; and undermine trusted institutions.
As Claire Wardle writes in “Misinformation Has Created A New World Disorder, these nefarious forces design content “they hope will so anger or excite targeted users that the audience will become the messenger. The goal is that users will use their own social capital to reinforce and give credibility to the original message.”
Wardle explains, “Most of this content is designed not to persuade people in any particular direction by to cause confusion, to overwhelm and undermine trust in democratic institutions from the electoral system to journalism.”
Sadly, we willingly and collectively gave Big Tech and their legions of agitators all the tools necessary to tear about the fabric of society. First, we handed Facebook and Google an all-access pass into the deepest recesses of our souls. Then we got into the destructive habit of spreading incendiary misinformation as we sought virtual connections to others in our online “social” circles.
“Technology platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest play a significant role in encouraging this human behavior because they are designed to be performative in nature… slowing down to check whether content is true before sharing is far less compelling than reinforcing to your “audience” on these platforms that you love or hate a certain policy,” Wardle explains.
These companies became the richest and most powerful in the world by luring and keeping us in their dystopian information eco-systems. For that reason, we pray they might be reigned in by antitrust cops.
But it’s also important to note that every American has to play a role if we want to live in a world where objective truth is not a subjective matter.
“A disordered information environment requires that every person recognize how he or she can become a vector in the information wars and develop a set of skills to navigate communication online and offline,” Wardle cautions.
She prescribes the development and training of “cognitive ‘muscles’ in emotional skepticism and trained to withstand the onslaught of content designed to trigger base fears and prejudices.”
That’s also known as intellectual and emotional honesty. Or, as journalists have long understood… “If your mom says she loves you… Check it out.”