The puzzles made visible through “fake news” are hard. They are socially and culturally hard. They force us to contend with how people construct knowledge and ideas, communicate with others and construct a society. They are also deeply messy, revealing divisions and fractures in beliefs and attitudes. And that means that they are not technically easy to build or implement. If we want technical solutions to complex socio-technical issues, we can’t simply throw it over the wall and tell companies to fix the broken parts of society that they made visible and helped magnify. We need to work together and build coalitions of groups who do not share the same political and social ideals to address the issues that we can all agree are broken. Otherwise, all we’re going to be doing is trying to wage a cultural war with companies as the intermediary and referee. And that sounds like a dreadful idea.
In my head, the design imperative that we need to prioritize is clear: Develop social, technical, economic, and political structures that allow people to understand, appreciate, and bridge different viewpoints. Too much technology and media was architected with the idea that just making information available would do that cultural work. We now know that this is not what happened. So let’s put that goal at the center of our advocacy and development processes and see what we can build if we make that our priority. Imagine if VCs and funders demanded products and interventions that were designed to bridge social divide. How can we think beyond the immediate and build the social infrastructure for the future? I’m not sure that we have the will, but I think that’s part of the problem.
Too many people seem to think that you can build a robust program to cleanly define who and what is problematic, implement it, and then presto—problem solved. Yet anyone who has combatted hate and intolerance knows that Band-Aid solutions don’t work. They may make things invisible for a while, but hate will continue to breed unless you address the issues at the source. We need everyone — including companies — to be focused on grappling with the underlying dynamics that are mirrored and magnified by technology.