How Fixing Facebook’s Algorithm Could Help Teens—and Democracy


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What does teen anorexia have to do with the crumbling of 21st century democracy? It’s the algorithm, stupid.

On its surface, helping young girls feel better about their bodies doesn’t seem to have much to do with the deep polarization and disinformation threatening civic society around the world. But Tuesday’s testimony by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen suggests that they’re both symptoms of the social media platform’s flawed algorithm and corrupt business model, and adjusting Facebook’s algorithm to tackle one problem could go a long way towards addressing the other.

Until Haugen’s whistleblower revelations, which have been published in the Wall Street Journal and on 60 Minutes, most of the conversation about regulating Facebook has focused on hate speech, disinformation, and the platform’s role in enabling the January 6 riot at the Capitol—a conversation that inflames tensions on both sides of the aisle and has led to a political impasse over how to handle the social media giant. But a bipartisan panel of lawmakers seemed uniformly appalled by Haugen’s testimony on Tuesday about Facebook’s potential to hurt kids, which could give Congress a way to move forward in regulating Facebook without getting caught in the controversial political bog of censorship and free speech.
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“There is political unanimity about protecting kids,” says Tom Wheeler, who served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2013 to 2017. “You can say, ‘I want to protect kids and should do that and my algorithms should be focused on that,’ and it’s the same process that also could make sure an algorithm shouldn’t spread lies or hate.”

In her blockbuster testimony to a Senate Commerce subcommittee, Haugen said that Facebook’s “amplification algorithms” and “engagement-based ranking” (the part of the algorithm that rewards posts that get the most likes, shares and follows) were driving children and teenagers to destructive online…



Source : time


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