Using “public interest algorithms” to tackle the problems created by social media algorithms

By Tom Wheeler – Technology and capitalism have combined to deliver us to a decidedly undemocratic outcome. The internet was once heralded as the great democratizing tool. That vision was smashed by the algorithms of the social media platforms. By fracturing society into small groups, the internet has become the antithesis of the community necessary for democratic processes to succeed.

This is bigger than the current discussion of political advertising rules for the internet. The questionable ads and postings are the result of the problem, not the cause of it. That problem is how the software algorithms that determine what you see on social media prioritize revenue over veracity.

In social media parlance, identifying users who like similar content is described as assembling a community. In reality, these groups are the un-community. Algorithms deliver only what they want to see, creating silos of prejudices and preferences that tear at the collective fabric required for a representative democracy. As the Russians demonstrated, organizing Americans into self-reinforcing echo chambers is ripe for exploitation.

Today, public interest groups of all political stripes monitor the mainstream media. With a public interest API they could also built public interest algorithms to accomplish the same for social media. To date, algorithms have been problem-creators.

It’s time for social media open APIs to enable problem-solving through public interest algorithms. more>

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