COVID Trolls

Some "Friend" who I do not even know, shares a FaceBook rant on Individual Freedom and COVID. "So what?" you say. Why did I see this post from a stranger and not a cat video from a friend I actually do know even if I don't like the cat? FaceBook algorithms (which grow smarter each day through Artificial Intelligence, AI) do that by learning. These algorithms made a decision to share this post with me and with many others. They learn from the results. The viral result...

Social Media algorithms are taught to learn to elicit reactions -- the more interaction on the "post" the more information learned from the people who comment like and (crucially) share. In this the algoritm's target included yours truly. Could it be because people in my family had died from COVID? That is something I cannot know, FaceBook wouldn't tell me even if they knew. All I can surmise is that this FaceBook algorithm is trying to get a reaction from me. And it worked!

Algorithms build a growing ability,  learning to target, to elicit reactions such as 'likes' and 'shares'. If users, people like you and I, react, we teach these algorithms about ourselves and our relationship to this content -- giving it a feedback loop to learn from. In doing so they are learning about you and me. Interaction with "posts" happens through other "users". Addictive stuff this! Selecting and targeting "free" content is what "social" media is about. Algorithms managed the interaction because it is commercially advantageous for Mr. Zuckerberg and his fellow shareholders. The success of algorithmic learning has been very bad for democracy in the scandal on Brexit and Trump's election that brought down Cambridge Analytica. This artificial intelligence is also dangerous in times of a global viral pandemic. Compiling ignorance on top of the danger of the SARS-II virus, social media too aids the virus in spreading through propagating  dangerous ignorance.

Fake News feeds on a deadly plague. 

This is the story of viral fake news in a viral pandemic. Believe it (or not?) 

Innocent Algoritms 
FaceBook's spokespersons -- especially Mark Zuckerberg -- have attested that the company cares about fake news, democracy and human health but still refuses to use filters to block fake news about a real epidemic. Wait? Didn't Zuckerberg say he would do after the Cambridge Analytica scandal? If FaceBook filtered such posts there would be less sharing -- with me and millions of other -- through algorithmic promotion, of lies about a pandemic. Fake News would be nipped in the bud, with an R<1 the fake News would die out. In a viral sense it would be "socially" isolated, the original host would be silenced and the virus would not spread. The problem is that social media is about capital not society. Commercial reality is far from that scenario of removing dangerous viral fake news. Indeed propagating ignorance can be profitable and algorithms and the companies they slave for, slave for profit not for society at all. 

"Social" media is not "social" even in terms of human health. The programmers who write the AI algorithms vote, the go to hospitals when they get sick, they even die of COVID but the companies that deploy their code are not driven by societal aims, that would be illegal! Companies by law need to maximise shareholder value, nothing more! 

The algorithms that choose the content to share with billions of people are not written to promote societal cohesion, they don't even care about human health in a pandemic. They're designed select content which could "go viral", to drive near-exponential interaction rate. Spreading Fake News drives FaceBook popularity, increasing time on social media, maximising data collection. This in turn makes the algorithms "smarter". 

Put simply Fake News drives profits.

The Cost of Business Sold
"Social" media -- like almost all media these days -- has little or nothing to do with subscription cost. FaceBook argues that its social media is "Free" is clearly false. The cost of logging into FaceBook is the sharing of our data. Instagram, WhatsApp same thing. End-to-end encryption of WhatsApp messages means nothing if you own the ends, the metadata and the contact list... 

Social media isn't social, what it is is a multi-dimension directed viral vector of content to users. In the Nineteen Sixties rock bands encouraged us to "feed your head". This promoted the positive social effects of psychedelic drugs in the time of the Vietnam War with the US. Here in the 21st... century FaceBook algorithms are paid to feed our heads with advertising and with Fake News throwing in a few cute cat movies to soften the pain. 

Selling Fake News is much more profitable than selling drugs.

Surveillance Capitalism
On one level a social media platform is a popularity contest to sell stuff. We are that stuff. By capturing our attention FaceBook can sell its surveillance of us and the models that are built upon this surveillance data, hence the term "surveillance capitalism". FaceBook sells eyeballs, to feed those eyeballs and the heads behind them FaceBook's algorithms are learning to become ever more sophisticated viral advertising vectors -- with the adds comes the Fake News. In a very real way the Fake News drives the advertising. 

Every interaction we make on a social media platform enables the algorithm to learn from us and about us. Surveillance capitalism thrives on "big data" -- the more viral the content the bigger the data set. 

This has nothing to do about society, health or humanity -- it's about money. 

Social media wants to be read; to generate a reaction, a like, a share or a comment. From a commercial perspective "News" is scribbling on the back of advertisements. FaceBook algorithms selects viral news because it knows we like it or better still we hate it. In the world of social media advertisements are self aware, they know when they are seen but much worse, while monitoring our interests in the advertisement an algorithm has selected to show to us, the algorithm is learning (from us) how these advertisements can be best loved (by everyone or select groups). With content (posts or advertising, doesn't matter) emotion is everything! Whether News is "Fake" information is less than irrelevant. Algorithms feed us content which we'll love or we'll hate. The only logic of Social media is to elicit a response. 

Algorithms are designed to feed us content that screams: "Don't ignore me!"

Filters could kill Fake News, instead they weight news by the politics of the sites where the news items are published. Filtering fake news on the pandemic, while good for society, would be bad for FaceBook profits as it would result in less interaction, not more! Less interaction is less profit because it implies less time on FaceBook, it means less advertising, less data. The shareholders can't do Fake News filters so they won't unless governments tell them what to do FaceBook will always put profit over human health (not dissimilar to the private helth "care" industry). Shareholder value again. 

Algorithms notice how Fake News drives up content interactivity so they push it viral, filtering out some boring real news story instead! 

It works for them!