Sunday, April 22, 2018

Facebook Rumors and Real Riots

The crap that spreads via Facebook is bad enough in America, but can be downright deadly in places with weaker governments and stronger hates:
Past the end of a remote mountain road, down a rutted dirt track, in a concrete house that lacked running water but bristled with smartphones, 13 members of an extended family were glued to Facebook. And they were furious.

A family member, a truck driver, had died after a beating the month before. It was a traffic dispute that had turned violent, the authorities said. But on Facebook, rumors swirled that his assailants were part of a Muslim plot to wipe out the country’s Buddhist majority. . . .

The rumors, they believed, were true. Still, the family, which is Buddhist, did not join in when Sinhalese-language Facebook groups, goaded on by extremists with wide followings on the platform, planned attacks on Muslims, burning a man to death. . . .

Time and again, communal hatreds overrun the newsfeed — the primary portal for news and information for many users — unchecked as local media are displaced by Facebook and governments find themselves with little leverage over the company. Some users, energized by hate speech and misinformation, plot real-world attacks.

A reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s descent into violence, based on interviews with officials, victims and ordinary users caught up in online anger, found that Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing. Facebook officials, they say, ignored repeated warnings of the potential for violence, resisting pressure to hire moderators or establish emergency points of contact.
I highly recommend the whole article, by Amanda Taub and Max Fisher. There is a real sense in which peer-to-peer media are taking us backward, from the centralized media world to that of village rumor. In some ways that is liberating, but the overall effect may turn out to be disastrous. They sum up:
Facebook’s most consequential impact may be in amplifying the universal tendency toward tribalism. Posts dividing the world into “us” and “them” rise naturally, tapping into users’ desire to belong.
Which brings me back to one of my favorite quotations of recent years, from Twitter co-founder Evan Williams:
I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place. I was wrong about that.

1 comment:

Shadow said...

One of the reasons why I have said the first amendment is threatened like never before. The 2nd amendment is under attack because we can't let whackos have weapons that make it easy to kill lots of people within minutes. And the 1st amendment is under attack because we can't let whackos use platforms that can reach billions within minutes or hours to incite riots and plot murders. There's a horrible synergy developing between the two.