How should rat catchers monetize

Opinion: Social Media - Tame the Digital Monsters

Who doesn't know that: Just take a look at the social media timeline. If at some point you remove your reddened eyes from the screen, another hour has passed - or more. Internet platforms are time wasters - and with full intent. Thanks to our time and attention, the Silicon Valley corporations rose to the league of the most valuable companies in the world; our massive amounts of fished data are only an indispensable aid.

The competition in the attention economy is tough. Our increasingly divided societies are left behind as collateral damage: angry, polarized, depressed, disinformed - and open to political pied piper of all stripes. Because the Artificial Intelligences in the supercomputers only pay attention to one thing when asked what they are offering the user next: What is captivating? What does commitment bring? What is stuck on the platform? The answer: that which is most emotional. And which feelings are the easiest to arouse? Fears. And closely related: anger.

"Hate for profit"

Anyone wondering why acquaintances suddenly ramble about chemtrails or insinuate that Bill Gates want to subjugate humanity through vaccination-implanted chips will find at least part of the answer here. When the algorithms recommend new content, they do not care at all about its truthfulness and what it triggers with the - transparent - users. The only thing that matters is: does the user stay on the page? In order to monetize our attention, the more extreme contents tend to be intensified in a kind of technologically fueled downward spiral; the perhaps somewhat more boring "voice of reason" is left behind. Activists have found the formula "hate for profit" for this business model. Even if only every hundredth person is susceptible to conspiracy theories: Facebook has over two billion users worldwide, YouTube almost two billion.

DW editor Matthias von Hein

As a central information distributor, social media are increasingly controlling how we see and understand the world. And while, on the one hand, unchecked and extreme content is being washed from the fringes into the interior of societies, on the other hand, the curated and checked information of established media is increasingly disappearing behind payment barriers. Democracy lives from informed citizens who have a common basis for discussion. It is easy to imagine where a society of disinformed people who can no longer find a common language is heading.

Under public pressure, Facebook, Google and Co. are now making some improvements here and are hiring a few students to reactively delete the worst excesses. But that is not enough. On the one hand, because the social media giants operate globally and in hundreds of languages, but content testing essentially only takes place in a few Western languages. An example in which even Facebook itself admits complicity: the expulsion of the Rohingya from Myanmar in 2017. The social network had become such a place of hate speech and incitement to violence that a UN investigator in 2018 described Facebook as a "monster". At the company headquarters in Menlo Park, California, you will hardly know more about the content in other Asian and African languages ‚Äč‚Äčthan in 2017 about the Burmese. The same will apply to YouTube and other competitors.

Regulate like the electricity or water supply

Above all, the reactive approach is not enough as long as the company's success is based on keeping us on the platform for as long as possible by addressing our lowest instincts, regardless of losses. Internet services now play such a central role in our societies that they have to be regulated in the same way as the electricity or water supply. For general health, it makes more sense to treat drinking water before it flows into the pipes, instead of installing filters in every household.

Social networks should be treated with at least the same care. It is not about "censoring" content. Much would have been gained if the most extreme content was not pushed alone. Even more if what would be offered as a priority - as individuals and as a society. For example, by granting licenses with the stipulation: people before profits. Our attention is too important a resource to be left unregulated to the corporations. Thank you for yours.