What's wrong with Ben Shapiro

neutrality: The business of anger, hatred and fear

The social networks want - at least in the US election campaign - to be neutral. Let's say better: become neutral. Because not even the big online groups can be retrospectively neutral.

So Twitter, Facebook and YouTube suddenly switched sides. Not so long ago, the three social media giants let their users do their thing on the end of the long leash, so they could post almost anything that wasn't criminal or copyright infringement. In the past year in particular, the "Big Three" have introduced guidelines and rules to more aggressively block content that they find offensive or dangerous.

Censorship and criticism

But this now leads to the fact that the right-wingers are led to the virtual pillory at every opportunity on the nose ring. Everything will be left and fake, unless it was already like that before, the critics are now loudly shouting. But have social networks always conveyed reactionary content and lived well on fear, anger and hatred, so how credible can they be? In the republican election rhetoric, pretty much everything seems left and unpatriotic at the moment that does not encourage people to take off their masks when armed. In the social networks people hate, lie, and prejudice themselves and feel themselves in their own victim role. Freedom of expression is discovered, but at the same time the contrary opinion is laughed at, devalued or suppressed. It seems as if the social networks have slept after the last US election, remember Donald Trump and Cambridge Analytica. Your measures usually seem poorly thought out and in any case not very transparent.

The example of Twitter shows how you can get caught between the fronts when you try to filter out false reports and maintain neutrality. Just now the unreserved favorite of Trump, then a new object of hate. At least superficially, because little has changed in everyday life. Trump is still busy tweeting. Following the recent controversy surrounding the blocking of a controversial newspaper article about Joe Biden, the short message service is changing its rules for dealing with hacked content. In the future, they would only be blocked if they were published directly by the hackers, said Twitter manager Vijaya Gadde. The short message service also wants to take account of the unintended consequences for journalists, among others. "The direct blockade of links was wrong," said Twitter boss Jack Dorsey. Instead, they want to add context and, in the future, usually provide the links with warnings instead of preventing their distribution. The rules against the publication of personal information remained unchanged.

The sheer numbers show that companies cannot filter effectively themselves: Twitter hosts half a billion new tweets every day, YouTube has recorded 2.2 trillion video views so far this year, and Facebook users share a million links every 20 minutes. There aren't enough moderators or even an algorithm smart enough to keep track of all of these accounts.

The discussions of the last few weeks are now shaking other regulations. Ajit Pai, head of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said that his agency wanted to clarify a rule that has been in force since the 1990s and regulates the handling of content on online platforms. The provisions of "Section 230" are sometimes interpreted too broadly, which offers Internet companies too far-reaching protection. According to "Section 230", online services are not liable for content published by users. At the same time, it gives them extensive freedom to take action against certain content or users. The regulation has significantly shaped today's web. Trump accuses Facebook and Twitter of suppressing conservative views and calls for the abolition of "Section 230". The Republican grassroots seem to follow this line of argument, with nine in ten Conservative Americans believing that social media platforms are censoring their camp, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

But what about truth and neutrality? If you take a look at studies, studies or simply the most shared content on social networks, you will see a different picture. Almost all studies show that the opposite is actually the case.

Neutral on command

For example, the Twitter bot "@facebookstopten" shows the ten most successful links on Facebook every day. These are created with the help of data analysis apps that break down very precisely which content is best received by the audience and which topics go viral. The usual key figures for user retention and dissemination are used - comments, likes and emojis. What the Twitter bot clearly shows every day is that Donald Trump himself is in the first place, followed by reactionary opinion makers like Ben Shapiro, Franklin Graham or Dan Bongino. In rare cases, liberal sources such as CNN or NPR are included in the ranking. According to the analysis company Newswhip, Shapiro's news service "The Daily Wire" is by far the most successful medium on Facebook. In September alone, the website, which is truly not known for verified facts and quality, achieved a good 80 million interactions, three times as many as the "New York Times".

For years, Facebook and Co. never tire of emphasizing that the platforms were only a mirror of society in which conservative opinions and stories addressed on a much more fundamental level than those of the liberal camp. Narratives of fear, anger, hatred, protection, the other and home were therefore created, which echoed much louder in the bubbles and echo chambers of social networks. The networks saw themselves and their influence as innocent and uninvolved market participants, who were themselves surprised that populist topics were so well received by algorithms that were explicitly developed to maximize user loyalty. The recently passed QAnon ban on YouTube is not a real ban either, as it only applies to videos that could justify or encourage violence.

Research by the "Washington Post" now even suggests that Facebook's algorithm has deliberately blocked out left-wing content in recent years. The Wall Street Journal also reported that in 2017, some Facebook executives voiced concerns about upcoming algorithm changes that they believed could have a greater impact on right-wing news sites like Daily Wire. Ultimately, there were changes to the algorithm that had a greater impact on the Internet traffic of left-wing media.

The first consequence of the stricter rules and controls is a slow migration of the self-proclaimed "critical voices" to other services. Messenger Telegram, for example, benefits massively from new channels, which thus become a closed filter bubble again. Maybe Facebook and Co. will become neutral in the end because the extremes have migrated.