Nowhere is this shift more evident than at Facebook, which for years has envisioned itself as a kind of post-human communication platform. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, has often spoken out about his “non-friction” design philosophy – making things as easy as possible for users. The other executives I spoke to seemed to believe that in the end, Facebook would become a kind of self-control machine, with AI doing most of the dirty work and humans interfering with the least amount possible.
But in the run-up to the 2020 elections, Facebook went in the opposite direction. He instituted a new and cumbersome approval process for political advertisers, and banned new political ads in the period following Election Day. False allegations have been suppressed, and a “spread circuit breaker” was put in place to give fact-checkers time to evaluate the suspicious stories. And it temporarily switched off its recommendation algorithm for certain types of special groups, to reduce the potential for violent disruptions. (On Thursday, the New York Times reported that The company is taking Other temporary measures to reduce election-related misinformation, including adding more friction to the job-sharing process.
In fact, all of these changes may make Facebook more secure. But it also includes reconnecting with the same features that have driven the platform’s growth for years. It’s a poignant act of self-awareness, as if Ferrari has realized it can only stop its cars from crashing by replacing the engines with go-kart engines.
“If you look at Facebook’s response to the election, the primary goal was to drive a lot of traffic and pay attention to these hubs that were orchestrated by people,” said Ellie Barriser, a longtime CEO and media activist who works at Civic Signals, a new project. . It tries to reimagine social media as a public space. “This is an indication that, in the end, when you have really important information, there is no substitute for human judgment.”
Twitter, another platform that has for years tried to make communication as easy as possible, has spent most of the past four years trying to brake. It brought in more middlemen, renewed its rules, and imposed more human oversight over features like Trending Topics. In the Months before the election, It has banned political ads, and has stopped sharing features on Tweets that contain misinformation about election results, including some from the president’s account.