Tuesday, January 31, 2023
HomeTechnologyOpinion - Reinaldo José Lopes: For more human social networks

Opinion – Reinaldo José Lopes: For more human social networks


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At this point in the game, any reasonable person is already aware that the hole we are in has a lot to do with the architecture of social networks on the Internet. Yes, it is clear that the global rise of neo-fascism, responsible for producing the regrettable scenes of terrorism in Brasilia, had a multifactorial genesis. But this rise would never have been so vigorous without the machinery for producing and disseminating lies and madness available on any smartphone today. The question is what to do about it.

For now, it’s only clear what doesn’t work. Let the supporters of freedom of expression as a panacea forgive me, but to think that fake news checking programs or traditional journalism made with care are capable of competing with the tsunami of manure that continually bathes us is pitifully naive. It’s much easier to capture the public’s attention and hearts when you’re not committed to the facts.

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“Wow, so you want censorship, right?”, some will ask. No – the hole is much lower. It is necessary to find ways for a profound reform of social networks that is, at the same time, “blind” to specific contents –avoiding, therefore, any type of prior censorship– and capable of nipping the harmful growth they have acquired in the bud.

I say this because, in practice, social networks are nothing more than a great experiment in social psychology, designed to hack the worst human instincts. And it starts with the most basic element of all: the fact that evolution simply hasn’t “designed” us (mentally take care of the quotes there) for near-simultaneous interactions with hundreds or thousands of strangers, let alone when those interactions don’t happen face to face. the face.

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Without the nuances of voice tones and facial expressions, and, perhaps more importantly, without the risks brought by boorish or wild behavior when it happens live, the gate was opened for people to utter nonsense or pursue strangers in a way that they would never have the courage to do it away from a computer or cell phone screen.

But there are more ingredients in this toxic broth. The mere invention of the “timeline”, with its endless updating of what “friends” are saying, is a powerful anxiety-inducer and enemy of reflection. Comment boxes turn any possible dialogue into a stage, where anything goes to gain the attention of strangers. And the “recommendations” system, which only measures engagement (that is, how many are “liking” or commenting), has been shown to tend to push users towards increasingly extreme content.

Regulatory agencies –ideally, at an international level– need to intervene so that all companies responsible for social media modify the mechanisms that encourage toxic behavior. Computer scientists and psychologists can collaborate to formulate and test the best interventions, of course. But imagine what would happen, for example, if all comment boxes were magically abolished. Or if, with each message you were going to send, the warning “Would you really say that to So-and-so if you were physically next to him?” for 30 seconds.

Putting this kind of idea into practice, of course, amounts to driving a screwdriver into the gears of the predatory and dehumanizing business model thanks to which social media platforms have thrived until now. Well, whatever. Does anyone really think that half a dozen billionaires are more valuable than the future of the democratic project?

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