How do we optimize collective sensemaking?
Perhaps we are in the Matrix? Minds colonized. In a commercial stupor.
The tech industry and other power brokers control what we see and importantly what we don't. By constraining the attention domain, they control our minds and influence our behavior in microscopic methods that we do not experience consciously. We cannot see algorithms and information asymmetries that herd our attention.
In an increasingly complex and interdependent world with existential threats such as climate change, exponential weaponry, and increasingly pandemics, there is a growing demand and need for factual evidence-based information and knowledge for sensemaking and collaboration.
It has become abundantly clear that today's Internet cannot serve this purpose at any scale beyond small listservs, forums, and email groups.
Considering humanity faces existential threats that require creativity beyond precedent, we need the Internet -- the place where many of us spend much of our lives -- to strongly contribute to if not drive the solution. As outlined in Zucked and its sister docudrama The Social Dilemma, the business models and algorithms of Internet platforms control choices and modify behavior, relegating us to filter and search bubbles, all of which leads to addiction and opens the doors to election hacking, cyberbullies, data exploitation, fake news... Such are the unintended consequences of a design choice driven by abject and desperate adherence to the religion of money. Or perhaps, they reflect integral accidents invented along with the Internet.
One might say trust is dead.
Our underlying structures and mental models are controlled or influenced by many powerful forces including norms, niches, education, entertainment, propaganda, and marketing. All of these come together on today’s Internet platforms.
Let's take a look at fake accounts!
How many fake accounts do you think Facebook took down in 2019?
Think. Do not read further until you have a number in mind. They had three billion total accounts in 2019.
If you guessed less than six hundred million fake accounts, consider that the scale of the problem may be an order of magnitude worse than you thought. Facebook took down six billion accounts in 2019 and says five percent of accounts are fake at any given time. That's over one hundred and fifty million fake accounts at this moment.
Fake accounts are big business because they drive behavior modification. Fake accounts exploit information asymmetries -- tricking people to think something is organically viral or shifting their perception -- to get people to buy things, to vote for people they wouldn’t vote for, to be confused, to be outraged, and even to enact violence.
To function as designed, however, democracies require informed and engaged citizens to participate and vote. The fragmentation of the Internet into information silos, search and filter bubbles, and the manipulation of our mental landscape diminishes trust and inhibits sensemaking, providing a robust obstacle to a democratic future.
As we have seen by the COVID-19 Infodemic, the recent Presidential term, and the 2020 election debacle, the global fact-checking apparatus is insufficient. And yet their known strategies consign us to a future of one-upping the other side in a misinformation arms race, while hoping for the best.
How do we optimize the Internet for collective sensemaking so that people can innerstand what to trust online by 2025?