During the 2016 campaign, Zeynep Tufekci was watching videos of Donald Trump rallies on YouTube. But then, she writes, she “noticed something peculiar. YouTube started to recommend and ‘autoplay’ videos for me that featured white supremacist rants, Holocaust denials and other disturbing content.”
And it wasn’t just Trump videos. Watching Hillary Clinton rallies got her “arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11.” Nor was it just politics. “Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons.”
Tufekci is a New York Times columnist and a professor at the University of North Carolina. She’s also one of the clearest thinkers around on how digital platforms work, how their algorithms understand and shape our preferences, and what the consequences are for society. So as we learn that Facebook is detecting new efforts at electoral manipulation and as we watch online politics become ever more bitter and divisive, I wanted to talk with Tufekci about how digital platforms have become engines of radicalization, and what we can do about it.
In an oral culture, memory is prized.
In a social media culture, attention-getting is prized. The Kardashians do this. Trump is an ex-reality television star, because that is what he excelled at. She thinks this won’t work well because it will be misunderstood. You don’t have control over where it goes.
What is this media training us to do? It is rewarding attention-grabbing with political power and money. Politicians try to get attention without letting it take over.
The space is so crowded, so competitive.
What really wins when thousands of things are competing? (28:50 min)
Things that outrage or excite core identities. Really funny, mean, or shocking.
We are taught to believe that competition is always better. The more we train people to win this war, it is easy to see how so much falls along identity lines, funny, mean, shocking.
Every company knows the power of the default.
The most effective forms of censorship involve messing with trust and attention.
Is censorship the right word? People are asking this of Facebook and Google.
What to do with Alex Jones and what to call him?
3 degrees of Alex Jones: you can start anywhere on Facebook? and Alex Jones will be recommended.
With InfoWars they are targeting people for violent incitement. Claiming that the Sandy Hooks parents kids are actors and they pretended a shooting occurred so that the government can take your guns away.
They are not governments; they are gatekeepers.
Ted Cruz has allied himself with someone who said his father helped kill JFK.
We need forms of due process
Human beings have many natural tendencies that need to be vigilantly monitored in the context of modern life. For example, our craving for fat, salt and sugar, which served us well when food was scarce, can lead us astray in an environment in which fat, salt and sugar are all too plentiful and heavily marketed to us. So too our natural curiosity about the unknown can lead us astray on a website that leads us too much in the direction of lies, hoaxes and misinformation.
In effect, YouTube has created a restaurant that serves us increasingly sugary, fatty foods, loading up our plates as soon as we are finished with the last meal. Over time, our tastes adjust, and we seek even more sugary, fatty foods, which the restaurant dutifully provides. When confronted about this by the health department and concerned citizens, the restaurant managers reply that they are merely serving us what we want.
.. There is no reason to let a company make so much money while potentially helping to radicalize billions of people, reaping the financial benefits while asking society to bear so many of the costs.
The diversity visa program is far from the main terror threat.
So it’s unfortunate and counterproductive that President Trump’s first instinct has been to politicize the tragedy by blaming—what else?—immigration.
.. He then shot off a barrage of tweets blasting the lottery, which he called a “Chuck Schumer beauty,” singling out the Senate Democratic leader. “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter),” Mr. Trump tweeted.
.. While we’re all for better vetting of immigrants, and monitoring of terror risks, the sad reality is that a radicalized U.S. citizen could also have committed the attack.
.. Chained family migration favors countries in Latin America while a disproportionate number of Chinese and Indians have immigrated on employer-sponsored visas.
.. Lottery winners make up less than 5% of the total legal immigrants. Applicants must have graduated from high school or have at least two years of formal training in an occupation. Initially, most visas went to European countries, but Africa has lately been soaking up the most.
.. In any event, reducing immigration or improving background checks wouldn’t have prevented the New York attack or many of the other two dozen or so Islamist-motivated attacks since 2001. Testimony from Mr. Saipov’s former acquaintances suggested that he didn’t come to the U.S. radicalized and that he became emotionally disturbed over time.
.. More than an immigration crackdown, the Saipov case might call for better monitoring of terror websites and groups that are more likely to be radicalized. We’re also with Mr. Trump—and Senator John McCain —in suggesting that Mr. Saipov should have been interrogated at length before he was read his Miranda rights. The first priority is preventing future attacks and breaking any terror networks.
.. Perhaps we will learn that Uzbekistan is a terror breeding ground from which immigrants need special vetting. But the Commander in Chief in particular should wait for answers before jumping to policy conclusions or exploiting immigration fears.
Prior to settling, Mitchell and Jessen denied any legal responsibility, and their attorneys argued their inculpability by comparing them to the low-level technicians whose employers provided lethal gas for Hitler’s extermination camps.
.. The case marks the first instance of legal accountability of any kind for psychologists who abandoned ethical standards — and basic decency — while claiming they were merely following government orders on torture.
.. The perverse rationale: According to memos from government lawyers at that time, “close observation” by health professionals constituted clear evidence that there was no specific intent to cause severe pain or suffering.
.. None of these psychologists has ever been sanctioned for ethics violations by state licensing boards or professional associations — even the relative few whose identities are known. In part, this is because the American Psychological Association (APA) — the largest membership organization of psychologists in the world — did not effectively defend the profession’s bedrock do-no-harm principles.
.. In public forums, the APA’s ethics director dismissed reports of detainee abuse as “long on hearsay and innuendo, short on facts.”
.. One association president condemned dissident voices as “opportunistic commentators masquerading as scholars.” Another advised us to “turn down the temperature on outrage.” A high-profile military psychologist boasted in his memoir, “I confronted one of my critics and threatened to shut his mouth for him if he didn’t do it himself.”
.. The APA commissioned a comprehensive independent review, conducted by attorney David Hoffman of the Sidley Austin law firm. The 500-page report confirmed what our own research and investigations had found. It concluded that the APA, despite growing evidence of detainee mistreatment, had secretly coordinated with Defense Department officials to promote ethics policies that matched the government’s preference
.. This was accomplished, in part, by stacking a key APA task force with military intelligence insiders and relying on Pentagon representatives
.. APA leaders took this path to “curry favor” with the military establishment — a source of lucrative grants and contracts
.. we have an authoritarian-minded commander in chief who’s insisted that “torture works.”
.. Donald Trump declared that he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
.. Since taking office, Trump has appointed both a CIA director who argued that the likes of Mitchell and Jessen are patriots, not torturers, and a deputy director who ran a CIA torture site and participated in the unlawful destruction of videotape evidence.
.. nominated for an administration position a lawyer who authored some of the infamous “torture memos.. many Americans (roughly half, sometimes more) support the torture of terrorism suspects.. contributed to radicalizing a new generation of adversaries... Psychologists understand the lasting impact of trauma very well. The demons of deep psychic wounds can continue without end. Colleagues who work with torture survivors describe the victims’ overwhelming feelings of helplessness, brokenness and disconnection from other people, direct results of having been subjected to agonizing abuse and humiliation at the hands of another human being... are haunted by flashbacks and nightmares, and a lasting sense of safety seems impossible to achieve... psychologists’ complicity, whether through active participation or silent acquiescence, is so egregious.