What obligation do social media platforms have to the greater good? | Eli Pariser
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What obligation do social media platforms have to the greater good? | Eli Pariser


I was talking to a guy
at a party in California about tech platforms and the problems
they’re creating in society. And he said, “Man, if the CEOs
just did more drugs and went to Burning Man, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” (Laughter) I said, “I’m not sure I agree with you.” For one thing, most of the CEOs
have already been to Burning Man. (Laughter) But also, I’m just not sure
that watching a bunch of half-naked people run around and burn things is really the inspiration
they need right now. (Laughter) But I do agree that things are a mess. And so, we’re going to come
back to this guy, but let’s talk about the mess. Our climate’s getting hotter and hotter. It’s getting harder and harder
to tell truth from fiction. And we’ve got this global
migratory crisis. And just at the moment
when we really need new tools and new ways of coming
together as a society, it feels like social media
is kind of tearing at our civic fabric and setting us against each other. We’ve got viral
misinformation on WhatsApp, bullying on Instagram and Russian hackers on Facebook. And I think this conversation
that we’re having right now about the harms that
these platforms are creating is so important. But I also worry that we could be letting a kind of good
existential crisis in Silicon Valley go to waste if the bar for success is just
that it’s a little harder for Macedonian teenagers
to publish false news. The big question, I think, is not just what do we want platforms to stop doing, but now that they’ve effectively
taken control of our online public square, what do we need from them
for the greater good? To me, this is one of the most
important questions of our time. What obligations
do tech platforms have to us in exchange for the power we let them hold
over our discourse? I think this question is so important, because even if today’s platforms go away, we need to answer this question in order to be able to ensure
that the new platforms that come back are any better. So for the last year,
I’ve been working with Dr. Talia Stroud at the University of Texas, Austin. We’ve talked to sociologists
and political scientists and philosophers to try to answer this question. And at first we asked, “If you were Twitter or Facebook
and trying to rank content for democracy rather than for ad clicks or engagement, what might that look like?” But then we realized, this sort of suggests that
this is an information problem or a content problem. And for us, the platform crisis
is a people problem. It’s a problem about the emergent
weird things that happen when large groups of people get together. And so we turned to another, older idea. We asked, “What happens when we think
about platforms as spaces?” We know from social psychology
that spaces shape behavior. You put the same group of people
in a room like this, and they’re going to behave
really differently than in a room like this. When researchers put
softer furniture in classrooms, participation rates rose by 42 percent. And spaces even have
political consequences. When researchers looked at
neighborhoods with parks versus neighborhoods without, after adjusting for socioeconomic factors, they found that neighborhoods with parks
had higher levels of social trust and were better able to advocate
for themselves politically. So spaces shape behavior, partly by the way they’re designed and partly by the way that they encode
certain norms about how to behave. We all know that there are some behaviors
that are OK in a bar that are not OK in a library, and maybe vice versa. And this gives us a little bit of a clue, because there are online spaces that encode these same kinds
of behavioral norms. So, for example, behavior on LinkedIn seems pretty good. Why? Because it reads as a workplace. And so people follow workplace norms. You can even see it in the way
they dress in their profile pictures. (Laughter) So if LinkedIn is a workplace, what is Twitter like? (Laughter) Well, it’s like a vast, cavernous expanse, where there are people
talking about sports, arguing about politics,
yelling at each other, flirting, trying to get a job, all in the same place,
with no walls, no divisions, and the owner gets paid more
the louder the noise is. (Laughter) No wonder it’s a mess. And this raises another thing
that become obvious when we think about platforms
in terms of physical space. Good physical spaces
are almost always structured. They have rules. Silicon Valley is built on this idea
that unstructured space is conducive for human behavior. And I actually think
there’s a reason for this myopia built into the location
of Silicon Valley itself. So, Michele Gelfand is a sociologist who studies how norms
vary across cultures. And she watches how cultures like Japan —
which she calls “tight” — is very conformist, very rule-following, and cultures like Brazil are very loose. You can see this even in things like how closely synchronized
the clocks are on a city street. So as you can see, the United States
is one of the looser countries. And the loosest state
in the United States is, you got it, California. And Silicon Valley culture came out
of the 1970s Californian counterculture. So, just to recap: the spaces that the world is living in came out of the loosest culture
in the loosest state in one of the loosest
countries in the world. No wonder they undervalue structure. And I think this really matters,
because people need structure. You may have heard this word “anomie.” It literally means
“a lack of norms” in French. It was coined by Émile Durkheim to describe the vast, overwhelming feeling that people have in spaces without norms. Anomie has political consequences. Because what Gelfand has found
is that, when things are too loose, people crave order and structure. And that craving for order and structure
correlates really strongly with support for people like these guys. (Laughter) I don’t think it’s crazy to ask if the structurelessness of online life
is actually feeding anxiety that’s increasing a responsiveness
to authoritarianism. So how might platforms
bring people together in a way that creates meaning and helps people understand each other? And this brings me back
to our friend from Burning Man. Because listening to him, I realized: it’s not just that Burning Man
isn’t the solution — it’s actually a perfect metaphor
for the problem. (Laughter) You know, it’s a great place
to visit for a week, this amazing art city,
rising out of nowhere in the dust. But you wouldn’t want to live there. (Laughter) There’s no running water, there’s no trash pickup. At some point, the hallucinogens run out, and you’re stuck with a bunch
of wealthy white guys in the dust in the desert. (Laughter) Which, to me, is sometimes
how social media feels in 2019. (Laughter) A great, fun, hallucinatory place to visit
has become our home. And so, if we look at platforms
through the lens of spaces, we can then ask ourselves: Who knows how to structure spaces
for the public good? And it turns out, this is a question people have been thinking about
for a long time about cities. Cities were the original platforms. Two-sided marketplace? Check. Place to keep up with old friends
and distant relatives? Check. Vector for viral sharing? Check. In fact, cities have encountered a lot of the same social
and political challenges that platforms are now encountering. They’ve dealt with massive growth
that overwhelmed existing communities and the rise of new business models. They’ve even had new,
frictionless technologies that promised to connect everyone together and that instead deepened
existing social and race divides. But because of this history
of decay and renewal and segregation and integration, cities are the source
of some of our best ideas about how to build functional,
thriving communities. Faced with a top-down,
car-driven vision of city life, pioneers like Jane Jacobs said, let’s instead put human relationships
at the center of urban design. Jacobs and her fellow travelers
like Holly Whyte, her editor, were these really great observers
of what actually happened on the street. They watched: Where did
people stop and talk? When did neighbors become friends? And they learned a lot. For example, they noticed
that successful public places generally have three different ways
that they structure behavior. There’s the built environment, you know, that we’re going to put
a fountain here or a playground there. But then, there’s programming, like, let’s put a band at seven
and get the kids out. And there’s this idea of mayors, people who kind of take this
informal ownership of a space to keep it welcoming and clean. All three of these things
actually have analogues online. But platforms mostly focus on code, on what’s physically
possible in the space. And they focus much less on these
other two softer, social areas. What are people doing there? Who’s taking responsibility for it? So like Jane Jacobs did for cities, Talia and I think we need
a new design movement for online space, one that considers not just “How do we build products
that work for users or consumers?” “How do we make something user-friendly?” but “How do we make products
that are public-friendly?” Because we need products
that don’t serve individuals at the expense of the social fabric
on which we all depend. And we need it urgently, because political scientists tell us that healthy democracies
need healthy public spaces. So, the public-friendly digital design
movement that Talia and I imagine asks this question: What would this interaction be like
if it was happening in physical space? And it asks the reverse question: What can we learn
from good physical spaces about how to structure behavior
in the online world? For example, I grew up
in a small town in Maine, and I went to a lot of those
town hall meetings that you hear about. And unlike the storybook version,
they weren’t always nice. Like, people had big conflicts,
big feelings … It was hard sometimes. But because of the way
that that space was structured, we managed to land it OK. How? Well, here’s one important piece. The downcast glance, the dirty look, the raised eyebrow, the cough … When people went on too long
or lost the crowd, they didn’t get banned or blocked
or hauled out by the police, they just got this soft,
negative social feedback. And that was actually very powerful. I think Facebook and Twitter
could build this, something like this. (Laughter) I think there are some other things
that online spaces can learn from offline spaces. Holly Whyte observed
that in healthy public spaces, there are often many different places
that afford different ways of relating. So the picnic table
where you have lunch with your family may not be suited for the romantic
walk with a partner or the talk with some business colleagues. And it’s worth noting that in real space, in none of these places are there big,
visible public signs of engagement. So digital designers could think about what kind of conversations
do we actually want to invite, and how do we build specifically
for those kinds of conversations. Remember the park that we talked about
that built social trust? That didn’t happen because people
were having these big political arguments. Most strangers don’t actually
even talk to each other the first three or four
or five times they see each other. But when people,
even very different people, see each other a lot, they develop familiarity, and that creates
the bedrock for relationships. And I think, actually, you know, maybe that early idea of cyberspace
as kind of this bodiless meeting place of pure minds and pure ideas sent us off in the wrong direction. Maybe what we need instead
is to find a way to be in proximity, mostly talking amongst ourselves, but all sharing the same warm sun. And finally: healthy public spaces create
a sense of ownership and equity. And this is where the city metaphor
becomes challenging. Because, if Twitter is a city, it’s a city that’s owned
by just a few people and optimized for financial return. I think we really need
digital environments that we all actually have
some real ownership of, environments that respect
the diversity of human existence and that give us some say
and some input into the process. And I think we need this urgently. Because Facebook right now — I sort of think of, like, 1970s New York. (Laughter) The public spaces are decaying,
there’s trash in the streets, people are kind of, like,
mentally and emotionally warming themselves over burning garbage. (Laughter) And — (Applause) And the natural response to this
is to hole up in your apartment or consider fleeing for the suburbs. It doesn’t surprise me that people are giving up
on the idea of online public spaces the way that they’ve given up
on cities over their history. And sometimes — I’ll be honest — it feels to me like this whole project
of, like, wiring up a civilization and getting billions of people
to come into contact with each other is just impossible. But modern cities tell us
that it is possible for millions of people
who are really different, sometimes living
right on top of each other, not just to not kill each other, but to actually build things together, find new experiences, create beautiful,
important infrastructure. And we cannot give up on that promise. If we want to solve the big,
important problems in front of us, we need better online public spaces. We need digital urban planners, new Jane Jacobses, who are going to build the parks
and park benches of the online world. And we need digital,
public-friendly architects, who are going to build
what Eric Klinenberg calls “palaces for the people” —
libraries and museums and town halls. And we need a transnational movement, where these spaces
can learn from each other, just like cities have, about everything from urban farming
to public art to rapid transit. Humanity moves forward when we find new ways to rely on
and understand and trust each other. And we need this now more than ever. If online digital spaces
are going to be our new home, let’s make them a comfortable,
beautiful place to live, a place we all feel not just included but actually some ownership of. A place we get to know each other. A place you’d actually want
not just to visit but to bring your kids. Thank you. (Applause)

86 thoughts on “What obligation do social media platforms have to the greater good? | Eli Pariser

  1. It vastly over estimated what one can achieve in 2 or 3 months, but majorly underestimated what can be done in 2 or 3 years.. social media can exponential contribute!

  2. Legally, they have no obligation. Whether they have a moral obligation is debatable, but they will only comply if non-compliance will cost more, in terms of fines, lawsuits, etc.

  3. climate change is a FRAUD*LIE*SCAM*HOAX

    "greater good" I smell a lefty angle for suppression of free speech pushing the leftist ideology
    it seems like closet communist always claim to be the champions of democracy

  4. There is no obligation. Of course, wise people would shun ignorance rather than adopt it as a useful communications medium.

  5. It is rather surprising, is it not, that whichever way you turn to trace the harmful streams of influence that flow through society, you come upon a group of Jews?

  6. Want an answer? What obligation has Hollywood got? Why pick on social media? Hollywood has been corrupting youth and adults alike since it started.

  7. I don’t know why exactly but this question annoys me? The idea of obligation out of pure existence annoys me. Can’t exactly pinpoint why. It’s just does. I think it just feels like someone that you don’t know looking you in the eyes and saying “what do you owe me?” Stfu. Go away.

  8. Social Media is designed to be inherently addictive. Asking Corperate Elites for further Moralism will result in Thought Policing and Censorship Reminiscent of an Orwellian Dystopia.

    People should stop avoiding responsibility and parent their Children. This advocacy for Paternalism highlights the AED of Millennials, constantly choosing escapism over bearing any discomfort.

  9. I can`t figure out why so many are hating on social media? It`s a true technological miracle und offers an ungodly amount of opportunity for everyone. Furthermore, it smallens the unjustice amongst people since everyones voice can get heard.

  10. I like YouTube culture the best 😋 makes you have to pay attention before you comment. Think before speaking. Also very many subcultures exist on YouTube depending on your subject which audience you attract. I found vice commenters to be extremely awful (I'm a not a rude person and I like vice?) to content producers versus Ted or leak project or bitcoiners or rly anywhere else I've been lol.

  11. i do think things like you tube Facebook and twitter should be nationalized . and use open source to improve it with cash prizes for any one that makes the best improvements like the x prize organization . but this also means that it has to abide by the law . freedom of speech and art and exasperation. now of course this does not mean you can make death threats or threats of violence just like today's laws . but any way these are today's printing press / news papers / tv ect ect. and should be owned by the public . never forget no one makes anything by them self's . we take what others have done and add on to it and make it better let alone the society / culture that made use what we are today .

  12. I'm banned from Twitter permanently because Twitter is an anti-male, feminist propaganda platform. If your opinions are anti-feminist or if you defend your opinions against attacking feminists, you will be banned.

    Twitter is a terrorist platform, they target children, and they advocate for violence against males.

    Everyone who works for Twitter should be targeted and dealt with.

  13. Why is it that whenever someone mentions "The greater good", they're asking you to overlook some heinous or unacceptable action to achieve this "greater good"?

  14. These platforms facilitate the mob nonsense in the forum. They use the energy and support provided by the modes and means of living and mearly take when they do not control the "kids" of all ages who behave wrongly, for whatever reasons. Right now they have incentive for it in the advertising medel. That needs to change. Just for a start.

  15. Beneficialness is good. Good is God. Expression brings experience. Experience brings discretion. Discretion brings insight Insight is understanding. Understanding is Light. God is Light. Compassion is God to the innocent in need. Because of His Likeness.
    – the homeless in Babylon.
    HE'S US! (In the mirror suffering the MONOPOLY of make-believe worth!)

  16. Actually this ain't so bad but you started out with the shittiest memes we have currently. Anyway a free market of idea is better and the best ideas will always survive by themselves. And I'm glad you realized this. No one should banned out of a public space.

  17. China tried "structure" for decades but it only inspired people to undermine each other. Lots of people died. You end up having to either censor or report what you consider bad behavior. And there you go down a slippery slope. The structure comes from within and therein lies the problem. Teaching respect and self control while being truthful would be a good start.

  18. or…. you could just get rid of the anonymity. By "like the cities" does he mean like the housing projects? They didn't go so well over time.

  19. Ah, I see that most commenters are continuing the time-honored tradition of giving their opinions based off the title of the video without actually addressing anything mentioned in it.

  20. Ya, Trump is authoritarian… when Silicon Valley is literally acting like fascist dictators through censorship, deplatforming and pushing a narrative through search results. You’re a clown.

  21. The ultimate solution. Don't use social media. Not even Facebook. Just live your own life. Because chances are, you're sitting on your phone instead of doing other things like going to the gym, cleaning your kitchen or taking your dogs for a walk

  22. All I could think of as I listened was that we need to do a better job of creating physical spaces to reduce dependency on digital spaces.

  23. 🦋the platforms re run by greedy people and are easily corrupted-people need to stop being so trusting and remember the old school ways of communicating is much better at times

  24. "The free and open internet is aiding the rise of authoritarianism. So with an iron fist we need to enforce a top-down structure on it." Makes perfect sense if you don't think about it.

  25. So basically a notice to the privileged to be more inclusive and compassionate to the less fortunate to re-enforce "diversity" in the digital world, as an approach to the continually polarizing political climate.

    Gotcha.

  26. What they all need to do is create more parks, more forests, a better agricultural system, better schools, more support for families, spaces that allow us to thrive as humans, like being able to live somewhere safe, not polluted and not segregated by nice neighborhoods. Our environment literally kills us, and instead of being able to coexist we are all pushed to a fantasy of a better life with the misconception that money and being rich is the ultimate goal, along with being hot, young, skinny, etc. There is a “perfect” mold we have all created, but perfection is artificial and can only be obtained through money. Use technology to help us humans coexist peacefully with our world, which means making it easy to have access to our natural world and other humans. We are never truly free, we are trapped in our houses, eyes glued to a screen and we wish the hours away as we either sleep them off or are so so busy and so caught up in routine that we have lost so much value from our connection to others and to our planet itself. Our society used to be families = strength and survival. Now individualism and perfectionism are what is expected. Creating humans, like Ai robots to be perfectly looking, with endless energy and worth ethic and the ability to adapt to a boring meaningless routine while simultaneously being rewarded $10 an hour and forced to buy products to make us feel something. We are owned by our governments and our society, and it profits off of us. We are not protected, families are being torn apart because of how difficult it is to raise children… I fear for my child if he experiences depression, anxiety, if he’s in a school shooting… but also his internal emotions… how he will feel maybe he will never be as perfect as someone else on social media.

  27. Giving this speech on TED platform is like giving speech on pro abortion rights in a Sunday Church meeting. Dude. You are on a wrong platform? Or are you?

  28. I don't have the patience to hear the entire speech, but the ugly, reactionary responses are disheartening, I must say. There's nothing more repulsive than right-wing cynics. I don't particularly love hippies, but appalling reactionaries are spine-chilling ill will!

  29. So much fluff.
    How about we start with the basics…. Define the rules (term & Conditions). Then enforce them without prejudice.
    It's how any modern civilisation works.
    KISS….

  30. More TED pablum – – zealots for a new Global Religion in which We're All Going To Die can only be solved by Our (socialists) Solution. Believe now or Die!

  31. Medieval build towns. Example, Romania, town Sibil. Has wide open space, Town Hall, watchtower. Suggest this, politicians will say, no there a mass of people can gather and demonstrate.
    Stands to this day. Twitter, will not last long, like G+

  32. …Obligation, Social Media, & Greater Good…?
    And you don't understand what the problem is yet…?If you don't know how to corroborate information & want gate keepers because you don't know how to say no or live without social media, & you can't regulate your own behavior or moral understanding, then you are part of the problem.

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