Many of us agree that the amount of misinformation and lies on the internet — particularly social media — exploded and damaged our social norms and trust in others these past few years. When you start factoring the right to free speech, large tech companies, and the unfathomable amount of information created per day, it becomes a nuanced and complicated problem. (Fun Fact: the World Economic Forum reported that four petabytes of data are created on Facebook per day in 2019).
Because this problem is related to marketing and will most likely affect the industry, I listened to several podcasts to learn more about human behavior on the internet, digital marketing, social media, how companies commodify our data, and what we can do about it.
Adam Marantz: Andrew Marantz is a journalist, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and author of Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians and the Hijacking of the American Conversation. Andrew talks about internet trolls and how they impact society, and his experience getting to know white nationalists to better understand race in America and how they became radicalized.
Leah Plunkett: Leah is the author of Sharenthood: Why We Should Think Before We Talk about Our Kids Online and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard and an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. She discusses the effects of sharing kids' data on the internet, being authentic online, and how tech companies are commodifying data now and in the future.
Why the Left Had to Steal the Right’s Dark-Money Playbook (Bonus Episode): The sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh spent years studying crack dealers, sex workers, and the offspring of billionaires. Then he wandered into an even stranger world: social media. He spent the past five years at Facebook and Twitter. Now that he’s back in the real world, he’s here to tell us how the digital universe really works. In this pilot episode of a new podcast, Venkatesh interviews the progressive political operative Tara McGowan about her digital successes with the Obama campaign, her noisy failure with the Iowa caucus app, and why the best way for Democrats to win more elections was to copy the Republicans.
The New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose explores how the internet affects all of us and our communities. This podcast serves as more of a case study. It follows several narratives — a young man who becomes radicalized and involved (and then gets out of) a white nationalist group through YouTube, how YouTube star, PewDiePie, rose to fame and his influence on his followers, and QAnon.
These are long, nuanced podcasts about a very complex problem. There are many additional factors like race, education, socio-economics, and class, that contribute to it. I noticed three main takeaways from a data standpoint:
Tech companies had a strategy for pulling people down the rabbit hole by building algorithms that promote radical content. At the very least, they need to take aggressive actions to ensure that blatant lies aren't spreading like wildfire around the internet.
Tech companies need to be more cautious and thoughtful regarding what happens with people's data and what companies or organizations are using it.
Until regulations are in place or companies change their policies, we, the users, should try to think about whether the content we're about to engage with is credible and offers value. Even though liking, clicking, commenting, posting, and sharing all seem like small, harmless actions, they collectively create a big problem.