Nick Pickles, director of Twitter’s public policy strategy, says that today’s speech by Mark Zuckerberg “will rightly be recognised as a landmark point in the debate”, which I suppose is true if we are building landmarks noting the obfuscation of that debate.
PIckles is concerned with “how you protect an open internet”, but making a conscious choice to allow disinformation in political ads doesn’t protect openness of any kind, it confuses it. Nor does pretending that Facebook isn’t run by Republican operatives.
“You can’t impose tolerance top down,” Zuckerberg said today, but as Derek Powazek (who knows a thing or two about online community-building) counters: “Yes, you can. It’s called leadership.” It’s true, sure, that you can’t change what’s in anyone’s heart by executive fiat. But the design of our communitites, be they online or off, encourages some kinds of behavior and discourages others.
Zuckerberg’s conservative leadership team has made its design choice: disinformation is fine, because it serves their political interests.
Pickles would have us believe that it’s “still very early” in this debate, except that it isn’t. It’s been happening at least since the public started finding the internet, and certainly since the commercialization of the web. We are, in fact, deep into a decades-long debate; only those who don’t want to change benefit from these claims that we’ve only just begun to talk about such things.
It’s interesting, though, how an industry that built itself upon the idea of disruption is fighting so hard to avoid being disrupted themselves.
ETA: “I’d like to help Facebook better understand the challenges [my father] faced from disinformation campaigns launched by politicians,” Bernice King writes, making this real. “These campaigns created an atmosphere for his assassination.”