It’s interesting to watch as tech companies are racing against regulation and financial harm resulting from all of the issues surrounding fake news that have come to light over the past two years.
Quartz is reporting that Google (I will never be able to call the company “Alphabet”) is floating some ideas to help deal with the “misleading information” problem, but more tellingly, that Google mentioned it as a financial risk to the company in its annual report:
Alphabet did flag “misleading” information and “objectionable content” as risks to the company’s financial performance in its annual report this week, for the first time ever. And the fact that executives were focused on the topic at Davos indicates the tech company’s willingness to take a more active role in filtering out fake news and propaganda.
Interesting to see as Twitter just posted their first profit since going public in 2013, but has famously become overrun with racists, nazis and Russian bots for the past year or two. At some point there’s going to be a decline in usage. Whether or not it’s business is being entirely supported by the insane rantings of a crazy person in decline, time will only tell.
The big problem with all of this is the judgement call that will have to be made. As Quartz mentions:
The idea presents some obvious hurdles—among them the question of who determines what is misinformation, which can involve individual judgment and political sensitivity.
On the surface it seems like a no-brainer. Crack down on this stuff before the world comes apart at the seams! But things look far different if the cracking down begins taking on a political bent or in pursuit of some kind of agenda that would benefit the platform or company.
Slippery slope, as they say. Next thing you know, we’ll be marrying toasters.
And therein lies the problem. None of the major platforms want to play the role of censor. There’s a little bit of a utopian belief that all of this will self-correct, but there’s also the realities that making judgements on content puts them in an odd place of power that they don’t want. But when it comes to the threat of being regulated or risking business performance, utopian dreams have to be put aside and complicated adult decisions have to be made.