Casey Newton is one of the smartest people writing about technology, and this piece – the platforms give up on 2020 lies – is absolutely chilling. It’s about social networks’ reversal of their disinformation policies and their new unwillingness to censor dangerous content. As ever, Elon Musk is in the mix.
One function Musk now serves in the tech ecosystem is to give cover to other companies seeking to make unpalatable decisions. Across a variety of dimensions, Musk has moved fast and loudest — and when others have followed, the response has been barely a whimper.
Mass layoffs, stricter job performance requirements, a war on remote work, paid verification for social accounts — all of these served as a kind of aphrodisiac for other Silicon Valley CEOs, who proceeded to implement their own, slightly softer versions of Musk’s cultural reset.
Most recently, Twitter’s decaying policy and enforcement systems have proven to be enticing for other social platforms.
We’ve known for a very long time that unchecked, unregulated media can easily become a disinformation machine, a sewer full of the most poisonous propaganda. Here’s Jonathan Swift back in 1710.
Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…
And of course, the Big Lie was at the heart of Nazi strategy too. We know how this works: not so long ago Facebook was a key vector of hatred that lead to the Myanmar genocide. Social media is a powerful thing, and all too easily becomes a powerful weapon.
We are in for an ugly time. And should the worst happen, I hope we remember this: the moment when tech platforms, having briefly banded together to do the right thing, looked each other in the eye and one by one all gave up.
It’s no coincidence that just yesterday we saw violent thugs attacking parents outside a Pride Month school board meeting in California while social media influencers incite violence against LGBT+ people, their families, their supporters and their healthcare providers; I really hope I’m wrong, but I think this year’s Pride Month is going to have a body count – and social media will have played a huge part in making that happen.