Carole Cadwalladr’s article, “Google, democracy and the truth about internet search“, published in today’s Observer New Review section is a thoughtful piece about the way that Right wing politics (under what ever banner they wear today) have used the Web to push their agenda.
Her opening paragraph about typing “are jews..” returned the equally appalling “evil” result this evening.
There is an underlying matter that the websites in question are using the very things that helped it grow: linking within a community and updating those links. Jonathan Albright from Elon University from created this image of the links between sites.
From the initial glance, it would appear that the sites sub-communities linking together in a larger format with a few nodes linking out into other, or larger, communities. It would appear that they have been far more efficient at it than other communities. (As side bar, I am currently reading Jonathan Rees’s The Leveller Revolution and there is an echo from the 17th Century, namely the Civil War, where groups used pamphleteering and publishing as networks.)
Without delving into that world, it would appear that it has developed almost in spite of Google and Facebook. Although both larger sites are part of the ecosystem and have helped it spread through being gamed, the speed of the rise would suggest that the structures have existed for sometime.
The spread of fake news across social media such as Facebook, as in Techcrunch’s report “Zuckerberg claims 99% of Facebook posts “authentic,” denies fake news there influenced election“, clearly marks there being an issue. 1% of Facebook traffic is somewhat larger than most sites. Yet neither the statement at the time or Google’s response to article, suggest an unwillingness to step up to the ethical responsibilities implied in editing.
It might be inferred that the Web then runs through such sites and engines, and this in part naive. Albright and Cadwalladr’s article appear to reflect that such sites are using the Web as the Internet was designed, such as specialist bulletin boards forming communities and de-centralised in nature. The recent political events have brought this to the fore.
As a social media network, Facebook does have an ethical and moral slant that should be applied by the company over and above the use of Artificial Intelligence. A reliance on closed algorithms is unlikely to provide a solution, time will be taken to game them or to use them for other ends. Algorithms are also written by people and may reflect their own prejudices.
Equally users have a responsibility to themselves to check stories and not just take them at face value. Meanwhile, these and other communities will continue to work as they do and to interlink. Unfortunately, it would appear that they have been efficient in creating their own network that does not appear to rely on search engines or social media but are equipped to be re-purposed if required.