Counterfactuals about social media

Let’s assume, for purposes of argument, that basically all of the complaints about social media are correct.  Then let’s also imagine, as Matt Yglesias periodically suggests on Twitter, that Facebook is shut down altogether, toss in Twitter and the others as well.

What would happen?

One possibility is that America would move toward a Chinese-style solution, with heavy censorship of the internet.  Still, I think both public opinion and the First Amendment make that outcome unlikely.  Furthermore, while the Chinese solution has been relatively practicable (as opposed to desirable) to date, there is no guarantee that will continue to be the case.

Alternatively, without tight censorship substitutes for Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter will arise, possibly based in other countries if regulation so dictates.  They might be less ad-funded, less profitable, and less easy to use, but the basic technologies for “putting every single idea out there” are already out of the box.  Furthermore, it won’t be that hard to find and circulate those ideas, including the very bad ones, through a mix of aggregation and search and focused spread and redistribution.

The first question is whether anyone actually thinks that such a world of less heavily capitalized communications entities would lead to greater responsibility.  The first cut answer, drawing on basic economics, would seem to be no.

The broader point is the relative popularities of various ideas and sources still will be upended, just as the printing press and radio also had some fairly radical (and not entirely positive) effects in their times.  In essence, various intellectual and ideological debates will need to be re-litigated and re-fought over the internet, just as they were redone over television and radio, or earlier through papyrus and also clay tablets, of course with somewhat different results each time.

Many people hate that reality, but a reality it is.  Let’s even say you are right to hate that reality (NB: not exactly my view).

Should you:

a) Go after the companies that make the clay tablets?

b) Go after the clay tablets and try to smash them?

c) Equip yourself to try to win the new intellectual and ideological battles for hearts and minds?

And what should we infer about the spiritual vigor of a society that might so heavily promote options a) and b)?


It's interesting, a year or two ago we were more likely to hear calls for better social media, in the sense of better designs, choice architecture, and so forth.

Are we in a period of greater pessimism?

Perhaps, with greater recognition that trolls (including state actors) will work pretty hard to get through.

Facebook has the 'block' function, one can turn off the trolls. ZUck also wants to add the encryption function so only the designated can read the posts.
I want to add the Penny Clicker, if you want to read a post, hit the Penny Icon and send the author a few cents.

But there is no such option on this site to turn off the trolls.

Trolls, by the judgement of this website, are removed.

One person's troll is another's rabble-rousing philosopher.

'that basically all of the complaints about social media are correct'

Well, the for profit surveillance state involves considerably more than social media, it is just that social media allows for organized data entry at a scale unimaginable to the data collectors of older style police state and totalitarian systems.

'that Facebook is shut down altogether, toss in Twitter and the others as well'

So, just like MySpace? Shutting down Facebook could be done with a single fine based on a 2011 FTC consent decree - '“It is ordered”, says the FTC’s proposed settlement with Facebook, that the social network “shall not misrepresent in any manner … the extent to which it maintains the privacy or security” of its users.
The FTC has announced the proposed settlement, under which it had alleged that Facebook “deceived consumers by telling the they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public”.

Because this is the potential fine, as combined from the consent decree's penalty and the number of proven violations. 'The losses could get even worse for Facebook, as America's trade regulator the FTC has reportedly begun a probe of its own to help determine whether the Cambridge Analytica debacle puts the social network in violation of the 2011 consent decree it agreed to after the trade watchdog took it to task for mishandling user data.

Facebook could be on the hook for $40,000 per person affected – as much as $2 trillion – if the FTC comes to the conclusion the website broke that agreement. '

However, the real counterfactual is assuming that Facebook will be bankrupted due to its noncompliance with a consent decree designed to protect the privacy of those using its services.

'substitutes for Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter will arise'

Well, there was a substitute for YouTube more than 15 years ago, but the idea of bittorrent seems to have been successfully beaten back, with the fiction that streaming is not the same as making a copy of a file's data on a local device. And there have always been substitutes for different Internet services, of course.

'that such a world of less heavily capitalized communications entities would lead to greater responsibility'

Monopoly über alles may be one version of basic economics, but it is not a desirable one, regardless of how much one loves B-B.

'And what should we infer about the spiritual vigor of a society that might so heavily promote options a) and b)?'

That when it comes to entertainment industry, threatening to arresting and jailing programmers and users has a decades long tradition? Remember when MP3 was exclusively a 'pirate' format - and all the efforts made to stop people from using it - or even thinking it was legal to use?

What exactly are the complaints we are assuming true? It seems to me that there are so many as to be multiply contradictory as a set.

The big complaint about social media is that Hillary lost.

Ha. If you can't see dysfunction in the entire 2016 process, social media included, what can we do for you?

"Finished a second read through the Mueller Report. I don’t say this lightly, as a life long Republican, former R Hill staffer, and someone who has worked on every R campaign and pre-transition team for the last ten years. There is enough here to begin impeachment proceedings."

Your tears are an endless source of merriment.

Who is crying now?

Mice are good at hiding, and yet there are cats.

Hi mouse!

Citing to a Never Trump collusion truther who has pivoted to the new fake story is good trolling, to be sure. Note too that the substantive policy positions taken by this self-described libertarian in his Twitter feed are heavily statist.

The dysfunction of the 2016 process is that Hillary lost. It wasn't the Russians who did it.

Is it any surprise that the FBI, who was intent on punishing the firing of it's Director, found anything but Comey's incompetence as the problem?

Someone said that every election winner has come up with a new and different way of communicating with the electorate. Trump tapped into a level of discontent in the Republican party and the electorate in general, and beat Hillary. Did the Russians make Bush spend $100 million on destroying Rubio?

It was Comey who defeated Hillary. It wasn't emails pilfered by the Russians that prompted him to come out and pronounce something or other, it was finding a collection on Wiener's laptop.

There were two seismic events in 2016. Trump, who dismantled the Republican establishment with no money and a few words. Sanders, who if he had known how much support he had early on and had gone for the jugular could have beat Hillary. The Democrat and Republican parties both went into 2016 with deep divisions, and I don't think we have seen the extent of the reconfiguring of the political landscape.

Social media has enabled some of this, it has removed the need for extraordinary amounts of money to get your message out. It has also dismantled the gatekeepers in the Media. Controlling the news cycle means nothing anymore.

This isn't finished yet. The FBI and Justice Department conduct has shown the foolishness of the all powerful security state, and I suspect we will see some changes.

It is Comey who lost the election for Hillary. And lots of people have been suckered into thinking it was something else.

You don't believe in anything.

If you cared about information security for the safety of the US, it would not just be Hillary's secure and mostly non-classified server. You'd be all over Kushner and Ivanka bypassing the same laws in their messages. You'd be all over Manafort's encrypted messages to Russian spies.

But you don't really believe it anything, so no such standard must be evenly applied.

It doesn't matter, anyway, because Trump is a Russian asset, remember? They don't need Kushner or Manafort; they get all their info straight from the Donald.

Best answer?

Isn't that the logical implication of your beliefs?

If you want to do any serious reading, US counter-intelligence takes an expansive view of the word "asset." It may be a long term and witting collaborator, but it may also be a dupe of the moment, so to speak.

Has Donald ever been duped?

More on "assets" here:

Now you're obfuscating.

Not at all, this is the serious question of the day, very definitely including all the shades of grey between a dupe and an accomplice.

The dupe is you. You're so indignant over the election results of 2016 that you are willing to swallow any paranoid bit of flim-flammery that partisan shills in the media excrete. So we get a bevy of links where you honestly posit that the president of the United States is a Russian agent, despite a two year investigation that found no links between his campaign and any actual Russians. This is sad, really, but not surprising.

I don't think the brighter observers are really on that page, though YMMV.

Well, your problem is that what likes bright to you is being completely distorted by motivated reasoning and mood affiliation, so if something sounds good to you, you uncritically accept it as true.

The mouse is weawwy, weawwy angry, and he's weawwy woawing.

'The dysfunction of the 2016 process is that Hillary lost.'

What dysfunction? She lost an election, which is what democracy is all about.

'It was Comey who defeated Hillary.'

In large part thanks to her husband, actually - 'Former F.B.I. director James Comey confirmed during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that it was Bill Clinton’s private meeting with former attorney general Loretta Lynch on the tarmac of a Phoenix airport last summer that ultimately led him to speak publicly about the bureau’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server.

Many believe the letter Comey wrote about Clinton’s e-mail servers cost her the election. Lynch said at the time that the two spent the 45-minute, unplanned meeting talking about golf, the recent Brexit vote, and their grandchildren, while some observers were upset about the optics of such a meeting at the time. The meeting convinced him to go public in an “ultimately conclusive way,” Comey said during Thursday’s highly anticipated testimony.

Comey said on Thursday that he grew increasingly concerned when Lynch directed him to refer to the Clinton probe as a “matter,” not an “investigation”—a linguistic parallel to how the Clinton campaign was describing what was, indeed, a criminal investigation. Comey said Lynch’s insistence made him “queasy,” because it seemed the Justice Department was trying to align its public comments with those of the Clinton campaign.'

'And lots of people have been suckered into thinking it was something else.'

Well, not those smart enough to believe Putin and his denials concerning the release of those hacked DNC e-mails. Representing a surprisingly large number of Americans willing to believe a former KGB officer's word concerning any Russian actions performed to further Russian goals against it is most formidable adversary.

Derek knocked it outta da pahk!

Thread winner!

This is a pretty lazy Straw Man argument. There are plenty of alternatives to social media running the way it is now that don't require us revisiting the Stone Age...

The problem is not that social media exists; it is that it exists with a single goal: profit. This tends to steamroll morality, trust, sharing, common understanding, and sense of community. Let's not pretend that an economic system can also serve as a social system -- it can't.

The alternative to social media platforms is simply the same platforms with transparency; transparency of code, of data collection, of data use, and of data sales. Sunlight is a disinfectant, and the current closed-doors system is a lightning rod for criticism.

Ok, but say I prefer the old profit driven model, are you going to stop me using it?

If you like your social media, you can keep your social media.

You could simply ignore the information made available to you.
I mean, you don't HAVE to turn on any lightswitches in your house, but your wiring needs to be up to code for you to live in it.

Sounds like you are not going to let me, I guess that’s proof that Tyler was not engaging in strawmanning.

The First Amendment won't protect you from China-style censorship. China's constitution guarantees its citizens free speech just as much as America's. They just... ignore it, the way America ignores the Tenth Amendment. And I wonder how long public opinion will protect you, as the left rails against Russian bot trolls undermining democracy and the right decries the fake news media as the enemy of the people. There's a bipartisan consensus that freedom of speech is being abused to harm America.

If we ever have a constitutional convention, the first amendment will be the first to go.

No, because we have the 2nd.

Word. Second greatest mistake in the Constitution (and bill of rights).

Your general point is spot on. Kill Facebook and Twitter and something else will appear. We've had places doing similar things for 25 years online. Newsgroups, bulletin boards, MySpace.

The tools today to build a community are free, the hosting costs are cheap. Anyone can do it in a way that not everyone could start a newspaper. Plus, everyone could find the presses.

There's also infinite reproducibility. Someone discovers a video showing proof of alien life, it has to reach one server, which can copy and broadcast and it's in a billion phones by teatime.

Finally, what protects internet free speech is that it's mixed in with other data and generally encrypted. If you really want to stop the internet as a free speech tool, you have to kill all the trade communications, too. And that has a huge impact on national GDP.

The problems with social media would be vastly reduced if it wasnt free. So people should be charged per post, by byte. The charge is to cover costs of operating the platform, which include real attempts at privacy controls and much more sophisticated content filtering at the user level if desired. It's impossible to filter content at the publisher level and platforms should not try to do it. Even trying to filter published content invites more regulation. Charging enables more traceability for law enforcement if necessary. It helps with accountability and reduces spam and other low value content.

LOL free speech for a price.

There is nothing stopping anyone from making a platform that uses that business model, but people don't actually want it.

What would happen depends on exactly how and why current media is shut down. If there is a ban on certain social media style activities, then exact alternative platforms won't arise. If current platforms are fined into backruptcy, then very similar alternatives might arise.

I suspect that part of the solution is banning the purposeful or negligent giving of false understandings. This is already the case where there is a tight link between obtaining large amounts of money and the false understanding - fraud. Why exactly is it that most media (including social media) is allowed to generate profits from aiding the giving of false understandings, and even actively generating false understandings?

The fact that mainstream media does it by cherry picking convieient facts to overdramatise or even create stories I don't think absolves them. If you created a false understanding in the same way to obtain a large amount of money ftom a few people it would be fraud, but if you get the money from advertisers by conning a large amount of people it's not a crime, or get a small amount from each of a large group it's not a crime, or at least not usually prosecuted.

In the past, each time there was a new communications technology, new laws came about related to the new technology, because new activities that people eventually realised were best described as crimes came about. Fraud needs to be extended to cover large volumes of small scale events, because the internet makes such things more practical and more profitable.

Technology finally achieved a truly open platform in mass broadcast media and look what happened. The elites don't get their favorite candidate into office and the calls for censorship begin. It makes me think that Donald Trump is the most out-of-the box president we will ever have for the foreseeable future. And we wasted that opportunity on Donald Trump.

Obama won in 2012 and afterwards we read lots of complimentary articles about Obama's brilliant social media staffers and about how Republicans are too old and stupid to understand how to exploit all these wonderful new social media tools.

When you see what Democratic supporters are doing to their reputation by the way they tweet, and use social media, you wonder if it's not an advantage to be "too old and stupid to understand how to exploit all these wonderful new social media tools".

Privately, I expect much of the objection by Democratic figures to social media platforms is not about so much about Republicans using them effectively as much as "We're making ourselves look like jackasses, but we just can't stop using the platforms! Somebody force me to go cold turkey by shutting down twitter, please!".

If you and daddy Peter are so convinced by the truth of white supremacism, why do you get so worked up over, of all people, Matt Yglesias? As if he matters.

Of course, the left is only mad at social media because they lost.

They can bend over and grab their ankles, because it's going to be hilarious watching the left duke it out to determine who is the most rediculous candidate. The primaries are going to be fun to watch - Harris, Pocahontas, Commie Bernie, touchy feely Biden, Buttigig, and Beto. It's gonna be bum of the month time!

I'm voting for Beto - 'cause he's Irish! ;)

'and about how Republicans are too old and stupid to understand how to exploit all these wonderful new social media tools'

Well, what is your evidence that Republicans are able to exploit these new tools? Trump's tweeting is not a rebuttal, by the way.

However, that Putin and friends understand how to exploit all these wonderful new social media tools is now beyond question. And oddly, the fact that Trump is president demonstrates just how effective the Russians were.

Strange, though, that these days, many Trump supporters seem to celebrate just how well the Russians are able to manipulate American democracy to achieve a Russian goal. A fact which just may call into question how Republican they actually are, based on decades of calls by the Republicans to never trust Russian intentions.

The number one reason that people voted for Trump is that he was the Republican nominee for president. Likewise, the main reason people voted for Clinton was that she was the Democratic nominee for president. Is there any non-crazy reason to think that "Putin and friends" (who are the friends?) had any major impact? I haven't really followed this closely, but has anybody ever pointed to anything other than posting tens of thousands of dollars worth of ads on facebook or (maybe) sending Podesta's not-particularly-interesting emails to wikileaks?

If we ranked every election since 1920 on a "Russian interference" scale would 2016 even rank in the top half? If we ranked all actions by or on behalf of sovereigns by their influence on the 2016 election, would Russia even be in the top 5?

'The number one reason that people voted for Trump is that he was the Republican nominee for president.'

Personally, I believe the number one reason is that he was not Hillary Clinton. A fact that certainly weighed heavily in Putin's decision making process involving who to support as a candidate.

'the main reason people voted for Clinton was that she was the Democratic nominee for president'

Probably, but what a stupid reason to vote for her. Though it was probably the most credible reason to vote for her at all, compared to all the reasons not to vote for her.

'who are the friends?'

This guy, for example - Who will not be travelling to the U.S. any time soon, unless Trump decides to pardon him first.

'If we ranked every election since 1920 on a "Russian interference" scale would 2016 even rank in the top half?'

Definitely - those hacked DNC e-mails were quite the useful political prize, as demonstrated by how eager the Trump campaign was to get their hands on them, as documented in detail in the Mueller report.

What was in the hacked DNC emails that you think significantly altered the outcome of the election? How do we know that "the Russians" hacked the emails? Why is leaking of some emails any different from Trump's pee tape thingy? It all seems like relatively small potatoes.

"as demonstrated by how eager the Trump campaign was to get their hands on them"

I thought they were trying to get "dirt" (maybe the 30k deleted emails?) on Clinton which was dangled to arrange meetings but never actually materialized.

'What was in the hacked DNC emails that you think significantly altered the outcome of the election?'

The manipulation of the primary process to ensure Clinton won the nomination comes to mind. Which again serves two different purposes - to weaken Clinton and to cause Americans to believe that anything resembling democratic processes are possible is delusional.

'How do we know that "the Russians" hacked the emails?'

Especially with Putin denying it - why, the word of a former KGB officer is gold compared to lesser figures.

That's not an answer.

Well, I guess you are right - 'Revealing the manipulation of the primary process to ensure Clinton's winning the nomination, timed for release just as the Democratic Convention was opening' -more detail is never bad, and the first part was skimpy.

As for proof about hacking, you are welcome to ignore what a number of different people, both Obama and Trump appointees, have said, but since you already seem to feel that who did the hacking is unknowable, no answer would satisfy you. Like this one - 'Guccifer 2.0, who has taken credit for some of the hacks, has denied ties to Russia, and security experts had reached a consensus that the self-proclaimed hacker was either a poser or the product of a Russian disinformation campaign. The cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect also determined that Guccifer 2.0 had been using a Virtual Private Network service, Elite VPN, to hide the origin of his or her efforts.

The Daily Beast reported Thursday that the hacker forgot to activate the service on one occasion, betraying the person's IP address and true location in social-media logs. US investigators have since used the information to identify Guccifer 2.0 as a specific officer at the GRU.

Guccifer 2.0's hack of the DNC and the subsequent dissemination of stolen materials wreaked havoc during the 2016 US election, and Clinton pointed to it as a major contributing factor to her loss to Republican Donald Trump.'

Russia certainly got its money's worth for $100,000 of Facebook ads pro-Trump, pro-Hillary, pro-Black Lives matter, pro-cops, anti-Muslim, pro-guns, pro-gun control, etc. In an echo of 9/11, though [did they know the towers would come down?] - one wonders, did they really plan to be as successful as they were? Could they have foreseen the exact way in which they were successful? - which was surely not Trump (life having gone on much as usual, at least until he's impeached and the stock market tanks) - but that we've come to fear them as the Great Bear again, based on something as silly as Facebook? It's like they infiltrated the high school yearbook staff circa 1983, and cemented their superpower status.

It's a little strange to me that the time Russia mocked up that fake disaster in Louisiana, got so little attention by comparison. But ... Louisiana, I guess is the explanation there. Evidence they do know us well. And how diabolically clever of them to exploit the sudden, and unseemly (and I must say, rather un-American), mass passion for protesting every weekend, by scheduling protests for the idle and deluded, one right in my own hometown, which piqued my pride a little, as when we're the city that gets destroyed about a quarter of the way through alien/disaster movies. [Meanwhile, throughout, we flattered ourselves with the notion that "The Americans" would be as totally hot and cool as Philip and Elizabeth. Ha!]

They also provided "80,000 pieces of organic content," I read. I don't know what that means - fake dogs missing on NextDoor? comments on posts like this one? (Is one of us not merely a troll but a Russian troll? Has the Brazilian been a dangerous distraction?)

If we could only learn that the Russians were the source of pussyhats, I could die happy.

'did they really plan to be as successful as they were'

If you think that the strategy had two basic prongs - keep Clinton out of office and to sow discord, sure they planned to be that successful. It wasn't that their goals were connected to any particular means - they just pushed whatever seemed to work.

And you really seemed to have forgotten about those hacked DNC e-mails, by the way.

Totally! You are right, I did forget, more or less: well, until I saw mention of them in the comments. I am not clear on the movement of those emails at all. Wikileaker (which is a hero in other contexts?) hacks them, then gives them to Trump's people? Or sells them? And otherwise they wouldn't have seen the light of day? Enlighten, if you wish to bother.

In truth, I admire those of you following the twists and turns. I don't have the bandwidth. I can't remember the names of all the president's men. I don't really understand the charges. I guess I'm thinking it's simplest (for me) to wait until it's all played out, and there's a longform New Yorker or NYRB piece explaining the whole thing (maybe a book review? - I could never get through such a book) in about ten years' time. If those outlets still exist.

'Wikileaker (which is a hero in other contexts?) hacks them'

GRU members are only heroes in Russia. In countries like the Netherlands, the UK, and Estonia they are considered arrestable.

If GRU, I find it interesting that they didn't hack the GOP's emails, just for the purpose of having all information - you never know what might come in useful when you're sowing discord. Admittedly, the emails of the GOP national committee sound unimaginably dull.

'that they didn't hack the GOP's emails'

And who says they didn't? Once you start getting into this hall of mirrors, certainty is an illusion. The Russians do not care about Republicans or Democrats, they care about Russian interests. The amusing thing is how the French were prepared for the same tactics on the part of the Russians, and made fools of them - 'A few hours ahead of the electoral silence and two days before the first round of presidential elections, tens of thousands of emails from Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team were leaked. Attached with the emails were summary notes, photos, invoices and among those official documents were some fakes.
Another factor is that those who hacked into the Macron team’s emails made several mistakes. Some fake emails were added along with the leaked documents but they were so absurd that they were hardly credible. Macron’s campaign team reacted by denouncing the hack on social media and turning it into a complete farce.'

The first step in doing something effective against a game playing adversary is being aware of what games are being played, instead of denying what is going on.

If they are such master tacticians as you believe, so many steps ahead of us in this bizarre game that didn't after all end in November 2016, then the obvious inference is that harming Trump and his electors is where their interests lie. They chose not to sow this "new" discord during the Obama years.

Perhaps that is why they kept his staff in the dark about how they *had the election in the bag* for him, per the evidence that Kushner, in particular, was assuming defeat and working on getting investors for a Trump media network in the weeks before the election.

'If they are such master tacticians as you believe'

I don't believe they are master tacticians, I think the Russians are a state, just like the U.S., with state level resources. And the hall of mirrors is all of them, not just the Russians.

'then the obvious inference is that harming Trump and his electors is where their interests lie'

Why make that inference? Putin decides what is in his, or his nation's, interests.

'They chose not to sow this "new" discord during the Obama years.'

Um, maybe they were practicing in places closer to home, like Estonia or Ukraine? And was certainly a presence during the Obama years - how quickly one forgets such a major source of non-fake news as the Russian government -

I've not known Americans to seek out their news from Russia Today, but perhaps am out of touch.

"Um, maybe they were practicing in places closer to home"

Practice paid off, then. Have to hand it to these Russians* - they saw at a distance, at a glance perhaps - what few of us and none of our mainstream pundits saw - that of course America would elect the unprincipled, cock of the walk, B-list celebrity, especially as one of the principles he didn't have, since he didn't have any, was the de rigeur hatred of America.

Now why the Dems are still denying the obvious, and putting up Harris and Warren And Buttigieg - instead of A-lister Tom Hanks, I don't know. It must clash with one of their principles.

*My Russian friends are so smart, though they have their blind spots. How proud my friend was, of Russia and Putin, when Russia retook Crimea. "See how Russia points like a gun at Crimea, it is meant to be ...": I couldn't see, exactly, but assented. Now however, her husband's communications app has come under negative scrutiny by the Russian authorities, because people used it to communicate (!); and she fears it would not be safe for them to go back. Still, I expect their pride is undimmed. Whatever similar, if lesser, vestige of American pride went before a fall, specifically fall 2016, even if illegitimate and misbegotten in the view of the elite, has resulted in a much softer landing.


You are wrong.

Russia spent $1.25 million a month.

On those Facebook ads? I don't think so. Though I guess somebody has to be paying for y'all to enjoy Facebook.

The Internet Research Agency is the thing that did that fake chemical plant explosion!

Wrong again. Quit spreading disinformation. Show me your evidence. I've shown mine, including material from the Mueller Report.

:Put up or shut up.

I don't know what to put up. You're attributing the entire budget of this propaganda organ ( to these Facebook ads? Did Zuckerberg lie or not know how much Facebook received? You're mistaken if you think I'm not quite ready to believe you, though. That's quite a score for Facebook. I guess that's why Zuckerberg decided not to run for president this go-round.

The article you cite was written in February 2018. Are you a disinformation troll?

My information is current and from the Mueller report.

From the article:

Those involved spent some $1.25 million per month on ad campaigns and measured their efforts much as an ad agency would, according to the indictment. It says the group kept track of metrics like views and comments, and measured engagement.

"Prosecutors provided a remarkably detailed picture of how Russians used social media, fake rallies and secretive operatives in the U.S. to create "political intensity" by backing radical groups, opposition social movements and disaffected voters. The outreach from the Russians included direct contact with over 100 Americans."

Weirdly, that same figure of $1.25 million recurs in both links, though. Nate Silver has it as the budget of the Internet Research Agency troll farm. The amount spent on Facebook ads is what I could only assume you were correcting in the post you responded to, where I wrote: "Russia certainly got its money's worth for $100,000 of Facebook ads," blah, blah - forgive me if you were referring to some other thing.

"And we know that around 3,000 ads were purchased at a cost of around $100,000."

$1.25 mil/mo - you've definitely made me less sure they got their money's worth!

Peri, You are wrong again, and you misquote Silver.

It is not the budget of the Internet Research Agency. It is the monthly expenditure of the IRA to disrupt the campaign

In fact, Silver says: : The indictment alleges that an organization called the Internet Research Agency had a monthly budget of approximately $1.25 million toward interference efforts by September 2016 and that it employed “hundreds of individuals for its online operation.” This is a fairly significant magnitude — much larger than the paltry sums that Russian operatives had previously been revealed to spend on Facebook advertising."

Disinformation. Silver's quote is not the IRA's budget--it is $1.5 million a month.

"Well, what is your evidence that Republicans are able to exploit these new tools?"

Like I said, the big complaint by non-social media (e.g., the NYT) about social media is that Hillary lost. In contrast, after Obama won in 2012, there were few complaints about the existence of social media.

And, Obama did it without Putin's help.

Read the Mueller report.

'the big complaint by non-social media (e.g., the NYT) '

Who cares about the NYT? And is Fox complaining about social media in terms of how Hillary lost?

Of course not. Fox is concerned with making sure we are aware of this sort of problem with social media - 'U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes filed a $250 million defamation lawsuit against Twitter on Monday, alleging that he has been the victim of hundreds of hate-filled tweets.

The suit also takes aim at Liz Mair, a Republican communications consultant who has attacked Nunes on Twitter, and the anonymous accounts “Devin Nunes’ Mom” and “Devin Nunes’ Cow.”

The suit, first reported by Fox News, was filed in state court in Henrico County, Virginia. Nunes confirmed that he had filed the suit in an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Monday night.

“This is the first of many lawsuits that are coming,” Nunes said on the show. “Our First Amendment rights are at stake here.”'

Odd easily overlooked such a lawsuit is, isn't it? At least Fox is on the job, letting us know why social media is such a problem, without referring to a losing presidential candidate at all.

Lawsuits are inevitable. Media personalities make utter jackasses of themselves on Twitter with regularity. I suspect 2020 will be characterized not by Trump's re-election, but by media personalities and media organizations facing stiff and sometimes fatal monetary damage suits.

You are aware of the fact that from an American legal perspective, Nunes's lawsuit is a big joke, right?

'Legal experts who’ve reviewed the lawsuit are laughing, too.

Attorney and free speech expert Ken White declared it “unusually buffoonish” on the KCRW podcast he co-hosts, explaining that some of its theories are clearly at odds with federal law, and that it targets a lot of material that is definitely protected by the 1st Amendment.

“Even in an era of stupid lawsuits, this one sticks out,” White said. “It seems almost like some kind of ritual self-humiliation by Nunes, kind of a jurisprudential streaking.”

But he added that the lawsuit is serious insofar as it forces the people named as defendants “to lawyer up and face the very stressful and expensive prospect of litigation to get rid of it.”'

Twitter has a lot more money to throw around than Nunes, and a lot more defenders. As noted at the start of that article - 'If any politicians lack standing to complain about being mocked or bullied on Twitter, it is staunch supporters of Donald Trump, a president who constantly uses the platform to abuse his political enemies. If any are particularly ill-positioned to sue Twitter over satire or mockery, it’s Trump-supporting Republicans who also champion the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act.'

Get better informed about the issues.

Start with the Berkman Klein Institute on Internet and Society at Harvard.

Here is the link:

Not really interested in banning facebook per se (it's probably a better world where facebook doesn't exist, but unintended consequences are present) , but conflating these specific platforms and business and their styles, with technological innovations like the printing press or radio seems like a particular level of delusion.

The most telling part of this to me is: Alternatively, without tight censorship substitutes for Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter will arise, possibly based in other countries if regulation so dictates. They might be less ad-funded, less profitable, and less easy to use, but the basic technologies for “putting every single idea out there” are already out of the box.

Which is a frank admission that these services produce relatively little value (some of them are not particularly profitable so far either, and ad-funding doesn't seem like a particularly good case?). This is somewhat at odds with recent praise of "Big Business" and startups as adding value to the internet.

The fact that someone can easily copy it does not prove that the service is not valuable. Also, the services had to be invented in the first place, and that innovation may have been very valuable.

I think social media may be a bit like currency. You can ban the current forms of it, but it will end up emerging again as people trade cigarettes or take over the chat/comment function of other applications.

At best, you can avoid concentration into a small number of platforms, but it is not clear to me that splitting Facebook into 100 different fora is that big of an advance for society. The very worst of the internet is on specialty social networks already (4chan, the incel blogs, jihadist forums,...)

When AT&T acts as a common carrier, and someone uses their service to make an abusive phone call, they are not held legally liable for the call. If, however, AT&T set up a number connected to a megaphone that allowed anyone to call the number, they'd be liable for the content.

In the same way, the social media companies should be liable for anything anyone posts if it's not an enumerated list of people (if they list the people who can access it, then the social media company is acting as a common carrier). I believe that would fix the problems...

This sounds smart, if it can be that easy, but would it put an end to virality? I mean, would someone like me, who's not a member of Facebook, or twitter, or Instagram, or anything, still get to see content?: the goat that did parkour, the dog that rides on the goat, the little boy and the dog playing t-ball, #catsbeingjerks, etc. And all the other wonders? The wingsuit flyer videos? Because if those go away, I will have no reason not to unplug from the internet, and go back to watching M*A*S*H with my supper.

Or - how could I forget? - the GIF of the ice cream sandwich machine, or the rusty knife sharpening video out of Japan - or the one where they made a super-sharp knife out of jello?! Or the Jurassic Park theme rendered on melodica (so, so good!) or the time DiGiorno pizza live-tweeted "The Sound of Music" network-television live remake?

These things have enriched the life of this hermit immeasurably. But policy, I suppose, should not cater to the small segment of the population that are hermits.

You're right; I've overlooked the goodness of shared videos about cats and dogs and other assorted stupid humans to the world). But I don't think my proposal would put an end to going viral; just put brakes on it's ability to spread so quickly. Good content is local content.... (and I realise that closed groups - in the facebook sense - deserve some middle of the road rules in that they have moderators who accept liability for the content)

I actually think that you strongly underestimate the ability to regulate social media out into relative oblivion in the U.S.; I don’t think that it will happen, but I distinctly remember claims that, for example, file sharing would just move abroad and maintain its popularity, and that just didn’t happen. New stuff arose, instead. “Social media,” vaguely enough defined, will not go away, but if you wanted to destroy this particular instantiation of it on the theory that it is particularly pernicious, you could do that.

Regulating things out of existence doesn't work in the USA. See the War on Drugs.

What killed file sharing is the rise of platforms that did the same thing but in a legal/ethical manner. It's worth $1 to buy a song legally, thereby avoiding the problems associated with illegal file sharing.

Oh please. Regulation is more than sufficient to kill most things. Take machine guns. Since 1986 civilians have not been able to own new machine guns. While there are the odd few cases of home crafting, there is no real black market in machine guns. Lest we believe the demand is not there, in the 1980s around a sizeable fraction of the cartel killings from the cocaine turf wars involved automatics. Somehow society passed a regulation that organized crime was not keen on flouting.

Similarly, absinthe has been banned in the US for over a 100 years. Even today it has to be "thujone free" to be sold. And yet the black market does not create a magical supply.

The truth is that you can very easily ban something if you are willing to pay a high enough price to enforce the ban. Prohibition, after all, was wildly successful at curbing drinking. Average consumption dropped from 2.6 gallons of alcohol per capita to just 1.2 post repeal. When you consider how much alcohol consumption was concentrated in just a few major metropolitan areas (e.g Chicago, New York, Detroit, Boston) and that Prohibition was riddled with loopholes (e.g. no ban on personal consumption, no regulation of grape concentrate, and miles wide exceptions for medicinal and sacramental uses) ... well Prohibition had to be wildly successful in most other places.

Or consider file sharing. Sure music for a buck is something nobody cares about. But music was never where the money lay. Software somehow is not mass pirated in this country. Mathematica, for instance, costs around $3000 per copy. It can run entirely offline and costs extra for cloud capability. Yet nobody is running around with bootleg copies from file transfer sites. Back in the day you could find music on Kazaa, sure, but you could also easily get all manner of software free.

The truth is if enough people wish to regulate things and are willing to pay the cost, it is gone.

The war on drugs fails because the cost, as evidenced by places like Singapore, is far higher than Americans are willing to pay. And always has been. Worse, the people who benefit the most from limited drug supplies are the poor while those who are powerful resent their impositions the most. If America were willing to treble its prison population and actually incarcerate first time users, the war on drugs would be much closer to being "won".

"Prohibition, after all, was wildly successful at curbing drinking. Average consumption dropped from 2.6 gallons of alcohol per capita to just 1.2 post repeal. "

I was going to write a longer reply, but if you think that a reduction in drinking is "wildly successful" in regards to Prohibition, and if you think an example is ever intended as an exhaustive list (see your discussion of file sharing), there's no point in continuing this discussion.

I had a dream that Trump too follow option C:

False premise. The complaint is not about social media. The complaint is about too much power concentrated into too few hands. Monopoly. It’s time for some good old fashioned trust busting. Social media will survive.

The spiritual vigor of bending over backwards to make life easy for neo-Nazis murdering black churchgoers. Enough of this Thiel-bought-and-paid-for garbage.

The biggest problem with social media may be that the rise in paranoia bordering on mental illness. Unplug, for a while. Watch the hockey playoffs or binge-watch Top Chef if that's more your thing.

I agree with James that you proceed from a false premise right from the start and vaguely refer to "complaints." Which complaints, exactly? A lot of such complaints are contradictory.

For me, the main complaints are:
1. The SM platforms are drastically biased to the left and already censor far too much.

2. The platforms equip low opportunity cost people to have disproportionate influence, and as low opportunity cost people often do, they have the lowest quality contributions.

3. They are a distraction from thought, not a forum for thought.

1. The first amendment needs to be incorporated for corporations and individuals. That is, the courts must defend freedom of speech in the privately owned public square. This does NOT imply tolerance of threats, fraud, or other antisocial language otherwise prohibited by law.

2. Charge a subscription.

3. 1 and 2 will take care of 3.

While the total destruction of modern media tools is a bad idea, there are things that could be done to deal with their worst effects without destroying it all.

For all the empty talk about privacy, Zuck just refuses to acknowledge the dark patterns his products use, and which at the same time make people less happy and make him money. We have a similar situation with YouTube and it’s utterly bananas recommendation algorithm. The current situation is akin to only being able to talk to distant relatives in a Las Vegas casino.

What do you mean by “spiritual vigor” (why is it ‘spiritual’ and not just plain vigor)? And how do you see that playing out? Assuming you’re extending the complacent class argument here...

A peer to peer alternative might emerge:
Alternatives to Facebook for all platforms with Open Source License

Strongly agree with c).

The one thing though, is to not just "go with the flow", but to be one step ahead of the trend. In other words, just because society right now is a morass of tribal warfare doesn't mean that wallowing in that mire is "equipping yourself" to win the new ideological battles. Society evolves and we're ripe for a reaction against social media (in its current form), so be part of the reaction. There's always going to be social media, but the algorithms and the norms which influence how people behave on social media are going to change. You want to be on the right side of that change.

>What would happen?

I'm amused that you don't speculate that people will return to blogs, rss, etc. There are ways to 'put ideas out there' that don't involve a monolithic social media platform.

Do people actually use Facebook, Twitter, et al. to "put ideas out there", though? I'd say 90% of the activity on my Facebook feed is "Look at this cute thing my kid did" or "I just achieved something". Those aren't new ideas--Pellew wrote about his kids to friends, and the entire history of civilization is proof that showing off is older than dirt. And blogs, rss, etc. aren't really good for that sort of thing. You didn't see many blogs made by grandmothers showing off photos of their Easter family gathering 15 years ago. Some, but not many.

People always mis-use a new technology before learning to use it in a socially productive manner. Cars w/out seatbelts, leaded gasoline, air travel through the 1970's, ubiquitous medical errors, painkillers, etc. It's possible that future historians will look back on the social/political effects of early social media the way we look back on radioactive toothpaste. At the risk of making a "this time is different" argument, it's harder to improve our relationship to the new technology when automated bots respond dynamically to our usage patterns, and evolve ever-more addictive tools to keep us clicking. And the incentives for the platform owners are closer to that of painkiller manufacturers than airlines who don't want to kill their customers.

"People always mis-use a new technology before learning to use it in a socially productive manner."

I see by your handle that you do not live in a state where every month is Chevy Truck Month.

A friend of mine, who had formerly driven one of the few small pickups left on the road, came by to show me his huge new truck. Since I like him, pretty well, I told him this would give me a chance to test whether enormous pickup trucks turn city-dwellers into a**holes, or whether a**holes turn their vehicles into enormous pickup trucks.*

*I'm not talking about you, guy who uses his truck in his job, unless that job is commercial realtor et al. I'm talking about the guy with a sack of dog food in the bed, an umbrella in the gun rack, and the time he could have actually used his truck to transport something, he instead hitched up a trailer behind it for a single lawnmower or Yeti cooler.

The Internet cannot cover up ignorance.

Smaller, less capitalized social media companies may be no more responsible, but there's a consistent theory that they would be less capable of driving usage and capturing users. This is the same argument that says marijuana legalization will lead a Big Pot industry group that will weaken any remaining regulations and ruthlessly market the product so that the number of users, and especially problem users, will increase. This argument also applies to gambling, where the regulation of internet gambling has had a big impact.

Big Pot is already here.

The leading investors in pot include such corporate luminaries as: Altria (owner of Marlboro; largest Big Tobacco firm), Imperial Brands (#4), Anheuser-Busch InBev (largest of the Big Alcohol in the US), Molson Coors (#2), Constellation Brands (#3), and Heineken (#4).

I could be wrong, but these have not exactly been good corporate stewards in the past. What with the whole blatantly lying to their customers, downplaying and lying about health risks, and of course shoveling money into advertising aimed squarely at demographics for which their product is not even legal. Maybe they have turned over a new "leaf" and things will be different this time.

But I am fairly cynical so I guess I am going to have to predict that these profit maximizing ventures will do what they have done before. Sell products that create major problems and then stiff all of us who pay taxes and buy health insurance with their costs.

Oh and continue to derive the vast bulk of their revenue from the users who least able to exhibit self control as their products slowly (or not so slowly) destroy their lives.

d) A parallel public system of social media whose mission is to optimize quality of engagement rather than quantity.

First, what is exactly the big problem with social media that these supposed solution are supposed to solve?

Some people complain of much fake news, others of much censorship, others of being monolithic, others of putting people in isolated bubbles, etc.

The "problem" is the internet has blown the media business model up, and journalists can no longer afford to live near their college buddies who had the sense to go into investment banking or law. It's also harder to control the Narrative when anybody with access to the Internet can generate content.

This is like reading the fanciful criticism of the Church, which was alleged to have opposed the printing press.

The fact is that anybody with a cell phone camera and a account is a journalist, and certainly a columnist, so the internet has blown the media's business model up. What's left of Journalism are poorly trained, incurious talking heads and Narrative-writers. The loss of this gatekeeping role for dissemination of ideas is, for some reason, worrisome to academic economists.

Russiagate and Iraq WMD's are two of the biggest and consequential instances of journalistic malpractice since Walter Duranty, but Tyler is worried about memes on Facebook.

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