Facebook’s new independent oversight board is supposed to make the company more accountable to its users. But technology ethicists like Tristan Harris say tech giants have a long way to go in supporting what he calls “digital democracy.”
Renewed calls to further regulate social media companies and police misinformation following the Capitol insurrection are putting a new spotlight on the role of technology in our lives. Harris, who was featured prominently in the Netflix film “The Social Dilemma,” has been thinking about this subject for a long time.
In the new anthology, “The New Possible: Visions of Our World Beyond Crisis,” Harris and his coauthors write that at the root of society’s problems with technology, the environment and racial injustice is an economic system “that is fundamentally not compatible with long-term survival.”
In the social media industry, the business model relies on sucking our attention spans until there’s nothing left, Harris says. It’s also designed to allow for “unchecked virality,” meaning companies profit off the rampant spread of powerful misinformation.
“Our mind is more profitable as dead slabs of predictable behavior, dead slabs of human attention,” he says, “than as our own free choices that are not influenced by these screens and these artificial intelligence social media news feeds that are pointed at our brains every day.”
The problem with this logic is that it has created all sorts of consequences: shortened attention spans, conspiracy thinking,