Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower from inside Cambridge Analytica, and author of Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America, talks about his new book, promising revelations about partisan data misuse.
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.