Putin’s Election Hack May Just Save Our Democracy
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington
The current digital age grants us access to information and to communication tools in quality and scope unimaginable only a century ago. We naturally assume such individual empowerment has bettered the state of our liberty. It has not.
The true weakened and frail state of our fundamental rights was on display this year when we all accepted as feasible a reality in which a foreign government was able to spend a ridiculously small fortune in order to communicate with Americans and inject enough disinformation that may have tilted the outcome of the presidential elections.
That wake-up call should cause US legislators to zoom out from that one election-related instance and address the monumental breach in western democracies exposed by Russia. More specifically, our takeaways from that fiasco should be as follows:
(a) the ads and sponsored content we are exposed to are the product of a powerful communication network which can be used as a global thought control system annulling our freedom of speech;
(b) there is an inherent flaw, we haven’t yet identified, in the way that communication platform is operated, putting our liberty at risks that were completely impossible only 20 years ago;
(c ) we are clueless of and defenseless against the numerous entities, commercial or otherwise, who pay Facebook, Twitter and others billions of dollars to manipulate the masses;
I believe I have identified that flaw and the way to mend it
Current modus operandi of social networks obscurely but dramatically empower the already powerful, subordinating our fundamental rights to their interests. This is done by granting only paying entities the exclusive access to big data based technology which powers the ads networks and sponsored content.
By depriving non paying individuals and communities the benefits of that powerful communication technology the social networks have skewed the delicate balance between individual rights and the rights of corporations and other entities. We are still in the early stages of such shift in balance but our prospects are not looking good. There is an entire industry, ad tech, working on improving the unconventional weapons of communication we don’t possess ourselves.
This is not a theoretical risk, the poor state of our freedom of speech is already evident to all social media users, we accept it as a fact of life and give it no extra thought. Countless users around the world with extraordinary content, experience or insights which, if given a fair chance, would be engaging and extremely valuable to millions, are mostly ignored, silenced by their inability to reach the relevant audience for their content.
Not everybody are gifted in that way, but we are all censored on Facebook, Twitter and here :-) by systems designed to reward only those with money or power and mute the rest who, to no avail, are trying to exercise their freedom of speech.
The disturbingly pertinent warning of George Washington should cause us to heed and realize that when are voices are all but mute then indeed dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
The patch I offer we introduce
As one sheep to another, I suggest we legislate the Fair & Equal Demographic Targeting Act which would oblige all social players to apply their demographic targeting tools to enhance our freedom of speech and the flow of information and ideas by dedicating the same amount of yearly views their sponsored ads/content got, to efficiently promote users’ generated content to relevant audiences unreached today, based only on the merits of the content itself to interest others as shall be determined by a transparent, equal and fair algorithm and the use of sampling groups.
The 1:1 ratio suggested between the overall amount of commercially promoted content and users’ content is of course arbitrary and the ratio may need to be different to have the sought effect, but by mandating that Facebook and others use the same content distribution technology to both types of content and by obliging them to maintain a regulatory set ratio between the aggregated views number of both types of content we would be able to minimize our vulnerability to manipulation as well as guarantee our freedom of speech.
By taking down the arbitrary barriers in social networks which serve to segregate us to small social ghettos and make us easy prey, we would discover our voice, that of others, and realize that united we stand, divided we fall.
Although the stakes are similar this is not a new Manhattan Project as we would be applying the exact same technology running today to sponsor the spread of information, disinformation or trigger us to reach for our wallets.
It’s a future we would all benefit from, including the investors in the relevant giants, but it would be irresponsible to count on Mark Zuckerberg and his peers to level the playing field for us.