I created the Product Safety and Security Team at Twitter. At different points in time I was responsible for the engineering of tools to mitigate Abuse, Compromised Accounts and the Login Infrastructure up to and including 2 Factor Authentication and Password Reset. I saw first hand the beginnings of the types of actions that are now being discussed in the US Senate at the #TechHearings.
The tepid response by senior management to the millions of accounts created by bad actors and how they were using the platform discovered in our research, is one of the reasons these hearings are happening today. It was the growth at all cost mentality that blinded many at Twitter to how the platform was being weaponized by the alt-right and as we are finding out, by Russia as well. This growth at all cost was a source of frustration for many of us working in Product Safety
The social media platforms we use everyday have now become the propaganda battlegrounds of the 21st century. The trust we have put in what our ‘friends’ post on facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is influencing our political views, our social views, our views on race and gender, and our views on right and wrong. And this influence has been manipulated with devastating effect, not just by the platforms for profit, but by those that would divide us and pit us against each other.
It is a fact that foreign governments used social media to influence the moods, emotions and decision making of millions of Americans. It is also a fact that the growth and profit at all cost mentality that was driving Twitter in 2015 and Facebook in 2013 left the door open for this manipulation. A door they refused to acknowledge much less close.
Tech companies have been hiding behind the saying “we are just a platform” to brush off any responsibility. And yet many of those same people will decry how Fox News is nothing but propaganda. The fact is, Twitter and Facebook reach more people on a daily basis than Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and the NYT combined. Yet they have shirked this responsibility and in effect have been the most effective way to disseminate propaganda in the 21st century.
Billions of dollars of wealth have been created because of these platforms. And our democracy may have been irreparably damaged in large part by these very same platforms. I don’t have a list of solutions to this. However I do know that if facebook/Twitter put the same emphasis on tackling this as they have on optimizing their ad serving platforms, we would have seen more progress.
I tweeted recently:
It should bother all of us that platforms with this much influence have, up to this point, taken almost no effective steps to mitigate this type influence. And while I am not pushing for government intervention, I do ask our representatives to push for concrete metrics to track the progress all the tech companies are promising to make. Metrics that are regularly published and peer reviewed. Metrics that are defined and mutually agreed upon. With civil and financial penalties for non-compliance. This would be a good start.