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'Something Has Gone Very Wrong' With Facebook, Google and Twitter

By Published on .

The Economist's Nov. 4-10, 2017 cover.
The Economist's Nov. 4-10, 2017 cover. Credit: The Economist

ICYMI, a brief (1,020-word) but important read: "Do social media threaten democracy?" (subhead: "Facebook, Google and Twitter were supposed to save politics as good information drove out prejudice and falsehood. Something has gone very wrong"), an essay that serves as the cover story of the current issue of The Economist.

The unbylined (per usual Economist style) piece reads, in part,

Not long ago social media held out the promise of a more enlightened politics, as accurate information and effortless communication helped good people drive out corruption, bigotry and lies. Yet Facebook acknowledged that before and after last year's American election, between January 2015 and August this year, 146m users may have seen Russian misinformation on its platform. Google's YouTube admitted to 1,108 Russian-linked videos and Twitter to 36,746 accounts. Far from bringing enlightenment, social media have been spreading poison.

The Economist puts America's current social media crisis in historical and global context, and notes that,

Society has created devices, such as libel, and ownership laws, to rein in old media. Some are calling for social-media companies, like publishers, to be similarly accountable for what appears on their platforms; to be more transparent; and to be treated as monopolies that need breaking up. All these ideas have merit, but they come with trade-offs.

Read on for thoughts on those trade-offs—as well as other remedies we should collectively be considering.

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