Do you want to prevent a civil war? Regulate social media algorithms, says political violence expert

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Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” march down East Market Street to Emancipation Park during the United the Right rally on 12 August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Political scientist Barbara Walter said that unregulated social media increases the risk of civil war.

  • “Let people put whatever they want on social media,” Walter said in an interview Wednesday.

  • “But don’t let the tech companies put the most extreme things in people’s hands,” she added.

In a liberal democracy, people have the right to express opinions that are wrong, ugly and sometimes bad – and they often do. But this does not mean that corporations have the right to exploit these opinions for profit, thereby contributing to the breakdown of societies and harming the rule of law, a leading political scientist claimed on Wednesday.

In her 2022 book How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them, Barbara F. Walter, a professor at the University of California San Diego, described modern social media as a boon for “ethnic entrepreneurs”: those who they arouse Resentment from dominants. a group that fears its power is waning in the face of demographic and political change.

In Malaysia, for example, Facebook was used by such demagogues to contribute to the genocide of the country’s Rohingya minority, who were portrayed as murderers and rapists in viral content.

In an interview with journalist Farai Chideya, broadcast by The 92nd Street Y, a Jewish community center in New York, Walter said that hate speech in the United States is generally protected under the First Amendment. However, she claimed that the technology companies had not acted as simple and neutral administrators of the digital public space.

She criticizes the way social media recommends content to users and keeps them engaged for longer, and what she says is its role in amplifying inflammatory comments.

She argues in her book and explained in a 2021 interview that “people tend to ‘like’ information that taps into their emotions, and those are things that make them angry, outraged, and resentful. And what the recommendation engines are doing is not only recommending more material like this, but more material that is even more extreme.”

Addressing this, she said, is a necessity.

“People ask me, ‘What’s the simplest thing the United States can do to reduce our risk of civil war?’ And my answer is always the same: regulate social media,” said Walter.

Democracy is a little stronger in the United States than it was two years ago, Walter said – not because any of its institutions are stronger, but simply because the White House is not occupied by someone who ignores the -the outcome of a democratic election. But it is “very susceptible to relapse if someone wants to.” [former President Donald Trump] to be elected again,” she said.

Trump has famously used social media not only to gain power, including nativist smear campaigns against Mexican immigrants and racially charged demands to see former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, but to trying to stay in power when he was about to lose it. Russian Vladimir Putin, through his intelligence agencies and state media outlets, has also used social media to further his own anti-democratic agenda.

“If Putin somehow wanted to weaken France, Germany, Great Britain, the United States – there was no way he could do it except through the back door through social media,” Walter argued. “And as long as social media is not regulated, it has easy access to try to divide these countries and undermine support for democracy there.”

Walter continued, “We also know that the rise of ethnic groups, hate crimes and political violence is not only due to the rise of the internet and social media as the main source of news, but also to the algorithms owned by large technology companies. a developed place.”

The answer is no censorship, she argued.

“I let people post whatever they want on social media,” Walter said. “But don’t let tech companies put the most extreme things in people’s hands to keep people engaged with their devices for as long as possible.”

Read the original article on Business Insider


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