Threadgoblin

Thread by robin on Rosegarden, archived six hours ago

Well, my twig yesterday about the weird-looking crow went kinda wild, by Rosegarden standards, and it got me thinking…

On a social media platform in 2019, a message from a single human can fan out, unfiltered, and reach thousands of others in minutes.

This is a very strange superpower!! It can be fun, but there’s an edge of danger to it, too… a runaway train kind of feeling.

(That’s why I deleted the weird-looking crow)

Of course, very often, it’s not fun at all. A sentence, poorly chosen, calls down a storm of bile. An army of bots glamours a divisive meme into a million minds. A recording of another human’s suffering, even their death, appears, unasked for, on your screen.

What we hear from companies like T and F and Y is that monitoring communication at this scale, preventing that harm, is an unprecedented technical challenge.

That’s correct. However… no one asked for communication at this scale!

To be clear, it’s a challenge these companies designed for themselves; a challenge they enlarged through relentless, ingenious growth; a challenge they now invoke as if it’s some longstanding problem in fundamental physics.

Like heating a pot to a boil, then complaining the water’s too hot to drink 🤔

“What do we do about this scalding hot substance??” the operators of social media platforms exclaim… as the burners roar on their highest setting.

Here’s a simple solution:

Cool it down.

No reasonable human needs more than 10,000 other humans to read their words within twenty minutes of writing them.

If someone — a journalist, a celebrity, a president — insists they do need an audience that big, that fast, well… they can start an email newsletter.

There’s no reason for any platform to provide this strange superpower to the president of the United States or anyone else.

“Start your own” is sometimes intepreted as a killing curse, but really, it’s not. People do it all the time, with newsletters, websites, even apps. Sure, it’s difficult, but reaching a very large audience very quickly should be difficult.

(It should require an offering.)

I hear the objection: something something free flow of information… something something marketplace of ideas.

But the people who are really serious about markets know better! Stock exchanges have “circuit breakers” that halt trading when prices move too fast. Sometimes the halt lasts a few minutes; other times, it’s the whole day.

Slowing things down lowers the stakes and reduces the potential for harm.

You know about feedback, right?

When a PA system screeches, that’s positive feedback. A voice flows into the microphone, out of the speaker, back into the microphone, out of the speaker again, and again, and again, picking up a bit of amplification each time around, until it becomes an ear-splitting wail.

The master metaphor for social media might just be the PA screech.

There’s another kind of feedback, called negative feedback. A thermostat uses negative feedback; so does a human body. When your temperature rises, you begin to sweat, which cools you down. When your temperature dips, you begin to shiver, which warms you up.

Negative feedback is the feedback of stability and health.

These platforms could add negative feedback a hundred different ways.

Maybe… there could be an upper limit on the audience for any single message. 10,000 humans? 100,000? (THAT’S STILL A LOT)

Maybe… messages could diffuse without limit, but slowly. You want to reach a million people? Sure! It’s just going to take six months.

Maybe… the same algorithms that presently identify popular messages and promote them could have the opposite effect, like those circuit breakers in stock exchanges. They could be wired to the brakes instead of the gas.

I can see a future, very clearly, in which all social media platforms include mechanisms like these, as a matter of common sense and also of law.

Here and now, I think Rosegarden demonstrates how many problems can be nipped in the bud (SORRY) just by slowing things down.

Besides, titania says the lack of real-time updates makes this site way easier for her to maintain. I think that’s telling. Information doesn’t “want” to flow fast. The engineers at T will tell you: it’s actually a pain in the ass!

I’m going to put these twigs in the queue now, but they won’t actually appear on Rosegarden until tomorrow. How pleasant.

(This is robin checking in, two hours later. I thought better of one particularly snide comment in this thread and came back to delete it before anything was even published. See? Slower.)

In the future, we’ll regard today’s networks run amok the way we regard those scenes in old movies clouded with cigarette smoke. Silicon Valley will be bashful about the wealth it amassed in this reckless period.

Like the old tobacco towns.

Social media platforms should run small, and slow, and cool to the touch.

That’s all I wanted to say.

I’ll go back to posting twigs of crows now.

This is an offering from Robin Sloan. I’m grateful to Vectors Market for their Nature Bold Line icons. You should read How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. HONY SOYT QUI MAL PENCE