Big Tech’s recent rush to repress provocative content has expanded the debate on free speech and the social-media algorithms’ raw power to preside over how people see the world.
Democracy and free markets aren’t supposed to function this way. Overall, capitalism works because it typically rewards players for being right and penalizes players for being wrong. If you’re an investor and you’re wide of the mark about something, the market will penalize you.
That used to be valid with journalism too. Traditionally, if a mainstream news outlet got something wrong, it’d face disapproval, retractions, and embarrassment. If the outlet was wrong often enough, its circulation would shrink, and advertisers would drop.
Sadly, this feedback loop has gone. Our media consumption has become so segmented and tribal. For instance, Fox News could assert whatever it wants its audience to believe, and the market won’t punish it. Indeed, Fox News could even be rewarded with more significant viewership.
Tribal media consumption is especially manifest with social media because the platforms’ business model is driven by tribe-segmentation, engagement, and clicks. Social media reward fanaticism, emotionalism, and hyperbole. There’s no natural self-regulating market apparatus any longer.
All told, tribalism and hyperpolarized filter bubbles have taken their toll. They’re contributing to society’s intellectual decay.
Idea for Impact: This isn’t as much a freedom-of-speech issue as it is a distribution issue. Yes, everyone should be free to express themselves without the interference of editors or other filters. But what does—and doesn’t—surface for consumption needs to be moderated. Gate-keeping must be done in a way that doesn’t devalue truth and ignore the counterevidence. Technology needs to pivot to help society break through the mental barriers of tribes.
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