How The Internet Became a Threat to Democracy Impelreport

We thought that social networks were going to save politics. That freedom of information would end with hoaxes and prejudices.

How the internet became a threat to democracy

Are social networks, mainly Facebook and Google, companies that are practically in a category apart from all the rest of the world? Are they equivalent to the phone’s antennas? Are they not responsible for what is said when their infrastructure is used, just as a telephone company cannot prevent criminals from using their services while paying the bill each month? Are they a kind of public square, an Athenian Agora, in which everyone can go and talk?

A couple of years ago, many would have subscribed to that idea nowadays not so much. In fact, those who claimed this does not know – or don’t want to know – the business model of social networks and Google. If they are free it is not because, as is often said, the users are the product they are because the users are the workers. Employees who do not charge, and customers. Because of Twitter, Facebook and Google sell advertising to the user-worker based on what the client-employee reads or hears or sees. That’s how, in three months, Google bills more in advertising than all the newspapers in the world combined. 95% of the increase in advertising on mobile devices is left by Google and Facebook.

How the internet became a threat to democracy

However, they are not responsible. That is, they are like a telephone company in which you will find advertisements as background music depending on what you are talking about or as an Athenian Agora in which depending on which philosopher you approach to listen to a gentleman comes to sell you sweet potatoes, a shield or a slave. But neither the philosopher nor the seller is responsible for anything. It is as if this newspaper that he reads now does not have to give any explanation for his ads.

Until a bill is passed – presented on October 19 by Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar and Republican John McCain – that would require all online activities that have more than 50 million unique users to report publicly of any client that earns more than 500 dollars (431 euros) in ads in them. Of course, the chances of that law going forward are to this day zero. Radio is regulated in the US since the 1920s. The Internet is the Wild West. A territory without law. Facebook censors nipples both on their website and on Instagram, but has left for days in full view of the video of a teenager hanging.

The bill came 18 days after Google and Facebook faced a new public relations crisis following the killing unleashed by Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people in Las Vegas. Both companies gave prominence on their websites to far-right pages (such as Blog Alt Right and the 4chan forum) and to the Sputnik Kremlin news service, which said, among other things, that the killer was “a person who hates Trump. “and that,” according to the FBI, “he had” sworn allegiance to Daesh, “that is, to the Islamic State.

Everything was a lie. Facebook and Google explained that what happened after the Las Vegas massacre was the fault of the algorithms. Your programs decide on their own what information goes above and what information goes below. When the employees saw these crazy things, they took them away. But the two companies know better than anyone that the key on the Internet is the ease of access and speed.

A year ago, the incident would have been just a footnote. But, now, it rains on wet. Rather, on an ocean of suspicion. Google, Facebook, and Twitter – smaller and in red, but more influential among the political class and the media – are at the center of a controversy that can be summarized as follows: were these companies the Trojan horses that Vladimir Putin used to support Donald Trump in the elections in which he took over the White House, exactly one year ago?

How the internet became a threat to democracy


When on November 11, 2016, they asked that question to the founder, owner, president, and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, his response was that it was “a pretty big madness”. However, last week, the head of Facebook’s Legal Department, Colin Stretch, admitted in the US Senate that 126 million Americans – 38% of the country’s total population – had received messages from Russia through your network.

Let no one think that this does not go with him, that it is only about fights between Russia and the United States. On Thursday of last week, the New Mexico Democratic senator, Martin Heinrich, said he had information about Russian interference through social networks in the crisis in Catalonia. “Right now, with the Catalan elections approaching, Spain has to be very aware of the impact of social networks,” said Brett Bruen, former head of Strategic Communication at the National Security Council with Barack Obama, where he coordinated the initiative against Russian propaganda. that the US launched in 2014. Bruen, who heads the consultancy Global Situation Room, believes that “Spain has to be ready for an online effort coming from Russia that will be long and sustained, and that will continue long after the Catalan elections of December 21 have been held.

“The question is not only whether or not Russia is behind these disinformation campaigns. The issue is whether these companies, which are among the most expensive in the world for their value on the stock market (only Facebook and Google together are worth almost as much as the entire economy of Spain ) are responsible or not. There, opinions differ. “Social networks have been used by forces that can undermine our democracy, but they have been used involuntarily and because of their ingenuity,” said Stephen Balkam, founder and head of the Institute for Online Family Safety – FOSI, according to its acronym in English, seeks to make the world of the Internet safer for minors – and also a member of the security advisory boards of Facebook and Twitter.

Others see it differently. “Social networks and, in general, internet companies, cannot recognize much responsibility in terms of political information, because if they do, they enter a downhill career because they will be held responsible for many things, from violation of intellectual property rights to child pornography, “explains one of those responsible for an organization that is fully involved in the controversy of the Russian plot of Donald Trump and cannot give his name on the advice of his lawyers.

Another issue is that a large part of the internet business model is based on not having employees and letting the algorithms decide. The problem is that, however sophisticated a computer program is, it is always a consequence of the people who have done it and, also, a reflection of the contents of the Network itself, which, in turn, are made by billions of people. individuals But in the end, always, are the people.

It’s something that Rob Speer, from the artificial intelligence company Luminoso, of Massachusetts, where he develops the job of Science director (as incredible as it seems, there are companies that have that position). Luminoso specializes in ordering and categorizing all the almost infinite amount of information on the web. Big Data at the maximum power. And that’s where Speer discovered, in something as innocent as the opinion of restaurant customers, that Big Data, left to its own devices, is very racist.

Everything happened when Luminoso developed an algorithm that evaluated restaurants based on the opinions that customers had posted on websites, such as Google and Yelp. Up there, everything normal. At most, a complicated technical task. Or so Speer supposed. Then, he began to see, as he reported in the company’s blog last April, “something strange and surprising”: the algorithm “made all Mexican restaurants worse than the others”. Speer looked at the data and came to a surprising conclusion: “It was the presence of the word ‘Mexican’ that made the restaurant worse off in the reviews, not that people do not like Mexican food, that the systems that take inputs of all the Network have captured many people associating the words ‘mexican’ with ‘illegal’ “.

With this technology, whoever wants to create disorders on the web has it easy. And that is the reason Facebook has announced that it plans to hire 4,000 people to monitor content only this year, and another 6,000 in 2018. The question comes quickly: will it be enough? Because the news reports published in the US in recent months accuse Russia, through companies that acted as a cover, to manipulate the networks to extremes that would be almost laughable if it were not about such serious things. There are examples to fill a train. The Facebook page of Texas Heart, which supported Trump? Russian A website in the same social network of the black movement Black Lives Matter that encouraged African-Americans to arm themselves? Russian The anti-Trump demonstration in Union Square, in New York, a year ago? Organized from St. Petersburg. Add and follow.

Perhaps the biggest paradox is that Silicon Valley is a Democratic stronghold, that social networks were the companies that came to the aid of Barack Obama in his primary against Hillary Clinton in 2008; that Google filled the government of that president with his former directors. At present, these same companies are accused by the Democrats of having put Donald Trump in the White House and of giving primacy to the income statement on ethics. Read more Latest News and more entertainment media movies and other updates at impelreport.


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