Two Pithy Quotes on Social Media & Democracy

How can worldwide social media companies ensure that their digital tools are not used to promote chaos?

Social media and the digital tools that we use every day have transported us into a strange new era. As we use these tools to work and play we tacitly  allow them to collect incredible amounts of our personal information — content that documents our lives, likes, loves, and dislikes —  and we become sitting ducks for sham news and fraudulent information. Those who possess our information, good guys or bad, can use impersonal algorithms to assess and use our data.  Read my post about using Duck, Duck Go.

Fast Company’ article, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt On Fake News, Russia, And Information Warfare describes how Google and social media companies were caught off guard by the manipulation of their systems and the prevalence of divisive news. The October 29, 2017, article by Austin Carr contains two interesting comments by titans of digital industry, though neither of them testified at the Capitol Hill hearings.   

News Evaluation Activity from the Newseum.

To me the quotes are relevant because — for the first time —  I hear CEOs expressing discomfort and apprehension. These guys and the multitudes of their super-smart, code-savvy employees did not anticipate or even imagine such an enormous problem could occur.

Check out these quotes.

  • You could be interacting with a bunch of people online, believing you’re talking to Bernie Sanders or Trump supporters, but really, you’re talking to three guys outside of St. Petersburg. It really oversimplifies it to just say this is a fake news problem. We talk about it in terms of ‘digital paramilitaries’. –  Jared Cohen, CEO of Jigsaw
  • One of the things I did not understand, was that these systems can be used to manipulate public opinion in ways that are quite inconsistent with what we think of as democracy – Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google

As digital companies testify before Congress about election interference, calling it hacking or cyber warfare and everything in-between, the lesson for educators and parents is to be ever more vigilant. Not only must we redouble our efforts to increase 21st Century children’s understanding of timeless values such as respect, kindness, privacy, and integrity, but we must do everything we can to ensure that young people understand how to recognize fraudulent content and seriously take to heart the history of the United States Constitution, democracy and civility.

Twenty-first Century digital life continues to present challenges when it comes to parenting and educating.

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