These are not freedom of speech issues

We frequently bring up the right of free speech where issues of amplification are concerned.

All media is an exercise in prioritisation. We’ve seen again and again during these years that it’s possible for Facebook to tweak its algorithm to modify what bubbles through the newsfeed of its users:

Typically, N.E.Q. (a ranking it assigns to news publishers based on signals about the quality of their journalism) scores play a minor role in determining what appears on users’ feeds. But several days after the election, Mr. Zuckerberg agreed to increase the weight that Facebook’s algorithm gave to N.E.Q. scores to make sure authoritative news appeared more prominently. […]

It resulted in a spike in visibility for big, mainstream publishers like CNN, The New York Times and NPR, while posts from highly engaged hyperpartisan pages, such as Breitbart and Occupy Democrats, became less visible, the employees said.

They simply choose not to: viral content pays the bills. More so than speech, it’s attention that we’re fighting over.

It should also be noted that censorship alone doesn’t work in an information-dense society. As Zeynep Tufekci wrote a couple of years ago:

The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself. As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all. They look like viral or coordinated harassment campaigns, which harness the dynamics of viral outrage to impose an unbearable and disproportionate cost on the act of speaking out. They look like epidemics of disinformation, meant to undercut the credibility of valid information sources. They look like bot-fueled campaigns of trolling and distraction, or piecemeal leaks of hacked materials, meant to swamp the attention of traditional media.

Until value will be assigned by counting likes, and recency will triumph over accuracy, there’s little hope that the quality of the information surfaced by social media will improve. However, it wasn’t just the algorithm here that abdicated to its responsibility to keep the public informed. Newspapers, radio and television spent the last four years constructing their narration of the events from something someone has said on Twitter.

Blocking only tackles the tip of the iceberg, the obvious abuse. The solution will eventually have to include rethinking how content is prioritised and how importance is distributed. The noise we experience on these platforms is a direct consequence of the logic of said platforms. Speed and ease of replication — the ability to take an utterance from an account with 10 followers and re-cast it to millions of strangers by clicking a retweet button — aren’t just features but an objective. Viral content pays the bills.

From Robin Sloan’s newsletter, via Alan Jacobs:

There’s something happening in fiction now, and to a degree in film and TV too: the time in which stories are set is scootching back, with writers fleeing to the safety of 1994 or 1987 or much earlier. Why? Because we didn’t have smartphones then. We didn’t have social media. The world didn’t have this shimmering overlay of internet which is, in a very practical way, hard to write about. Writers of novels and teleplays have well-developed tools for the depiction of drama in real space. Drama that plays out through our little pocket-sized screens is just as rich – but how do we show it? We’re now seeing film and TV figure this out in real-time.

Sul BackChannel (Medium), Aaron Zamost descrive la ciclicità degli eventi con cui il percorso di una startup viene narrato dai media:

A company’s narrative moves like a clock: it starts at midnight, ticking off the hours. The tone and sentiment about how a business is doing move from positive (sunrise, midday) to negative (dusk, darkness). And often the story returns to midnight, rebirth and a new day.

Joshua Topolsky sul perché ha lasciato Bloomberg

The reality in media right now is that there is an enormous amount of noise. There are countless outlets (both old and new) vying for your attention, desperate not just to capture some audience, but all the audience. And in doing that, it feels like there’s a tremendous watering down of the quality and uniqueness of what is being made. Everything looks the same, reads the same, and seems to be competing for the same eyeballs. In both execution and content, I find myself increasingly frustrated with the rat race for maximum audience at any expense. It’s cynical and it’s cyclical — which makes for an exhausting and frankly boring experience. Joshua Topolsky, riguardo la decisione di abbandonare Bloomberg