With the approach of the presidential election, which favors political debates within the population, it should be remembered that social networks are no more politically neutral than traditional media. The absence of an editor or editorial line is just a facade: algorithms do dictate what type of content is favored.
We have already addressed several times in Alternative Libertaire the deeply political role played by the social networks developed by the surveillance capitalists (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, but also their more recent competitors like TikTok or Snapchat). Even if Mark Zuckerberg continues to affirm loud and clear that Facebook and Instagram are neutral and without bias, we have known for a long time that this is false.
The emblematic example of recent years is the censorship of the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, in the last days of his mandate, despite his apparent position as the most powerful man on the planet, but we must also remember that social movements, trade unions, collective struggle, independent media are regularly censored and have their pages closed without any other form of trial [ 1 ] .
But censorship is only the tip of the iceberg. The political control exercised by these networks is much more insidious. The sole motivation of bosses like Zuckerberg and their shareholders is profit ; their rents come from advertising revenues ; the latter are generated by displays and clicks on links dotting the pages, threads, walls.
To be as effective as possible, these advertising links are chosen in a targeted manner according to the profiling of the Internet user carried out by the company’s artificial intelligence [ 2 ] . Using the capabilities of modern computing to profile each individual, predict and then influence their behaviors, and ultimately enrich themselves every step of the way is called surveillance capitalism, in which corporations like Google and Facebook are the champions.
To generate maximum profits, these companies therefore have an interest in favoring pages that attract an audience, preferably an easily predictable audience that will actually click on the advertising links (the clicks bring in more than the simple display). The most predictable audience is the audience you touch on an emotional level, the audience you provoke, the audience you shock. The issues that affect as many people as possible are societal issues, current issues, interpretations of news items.
These two elements taken together explain why the social networks of surveillance capitalism promote, among other things, far-right fake news and conspiracy theories ; a provocative analysis of a news item rarely tells the truth, and yet it is the one that will bring in the most money !
Tolerance for ” superspreaders “
Several studies show this. For example, we learn in an article in the journal Science that false information is 70% more likely to be shared on Twitter. Another example: a leaked internal Facebook study reveals that the company is able to detect the spread of false information and even so-called ” superspreader ” nodes (the accounts and pages that contribute the most to the virality of this information), but has explicitly decided not to block these accounts [ 3 ] .
Conversely, Facebook has reportedly blocked the accounts of six academics working on spreading news on the platform [ 4 ] despite their study showing that fake news spreads there up to six times faster than a year ago [ 5 ] .
Far-right content is not favored out of malice or to obey some sinister plot ; they are favored because (surveillance) capitalism simply demands ever more (surveillance) income. No far-right conspiracy then, but all the same a political choice (capitalist !): that of favoring income at the expense of information, debate, society. Understanding this mechanism is essential to calmly address the issue of social networks and their political weight.
No, today’s digital world is not favorable to our camp. And it won’t be as long as surveillance capitalism remains its economic model.
However, it is of course not a question of deserting the digital field and leaving it entirely at the mercy of our political adversaries. The Internet (and the exchanges through it) can also allow a certain number of people to come out of their isolation and to build ties, in particular when they are part of minority groups.
This is why it is important to promote alternatives that do not depend on capitalists (self-hosted forums, decentralized free networks like Mastodon, etc.), while remaining aware that our ground, the one where we ” play from home is not and will probably never be that of the social network, but that of the social struggle.
UCL Library Commission
TWITTER ACKNOWLEDGES FOSTERING RIGHT-WING SPEECH
In a study commissioned by the company itself, and made public on October 21, 2021 (“ Algorithmic Amplification of Politics on Twitter ”, available online), it was demonstrated (or confirmed, it depends) that the algorithms of recommendation of this social network favor the speeches of politicians, politicians and right-wing media. Millions of messages (“ tweets ”) were analyzed, originating from the following seven countries: France, Germany, Canada, Spain, United States, Japan and United Kingdom. In all these countries except Germany, the right appears to be favoured.
A few questions remain: why is Germany an exception ? Is the report’s conclusion that extreme political discourse is not given more prominence than moderate political discourse reliable ? Doesn’t the ” transparency ” approach that led to the publication of this study have hidden motivations – fear that an embargo on the text will trigger a vocation as a launcher or whistleblower, an attempt to pass for more virtuous than the competing Facebook network ?
Leo (UCL Lyon)
[ 1 ] “ Strength(s) with Facebook ” , Libertarian Alternative , January 2021.
[ 2 ] “ If it’s free, are you producing ? ” , Libertarian Alternative , September 2019.
[ 3 ] “ Facebook measured the impact of misinformation on the pandemic ”, Infobref.com , October 31, 2021.
[ 4 ] “ Facebook Disables Personal Accounts of Academics Researching Ad Transparency and Misinformation on the Platform ,” Developpez.com , August 5, 2021.
[ 5 ] “ Study Shows Misinformation Spreads Six Times Faster on Facebook Than a Year Ago, ” Developpez.com , September 6, 2021.