The end of real social networks by Daron Acemoglu

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Social media platforms do more than create echo chambers, spread lies and facilitate the circulation of extremist ideas. Previous media innovations, dating back at least to the printing press, have done so too, but none of them have shaken the very foundations of human communication and social interaction.

CAMBRIDGE – Not only are billions of people around the world glued to their mobile phones, but the information they consume has changed dramatically – and not for the better. On mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, researchers have documented that lies spread faster and wider than similar content containing accurate information. While users don’t ask for misinformation, the algorithms that determine what people see tend to favor sensational, inaccurate, and misleading content because that’s what drives “engagement” and therefore ad revenue.

Like internet activist Eli Pariser Noted in 2011, Facebook is also creating filter bubbles, in which individuals are more likely to be presented with content that reinforces their own ideological leanings and confirms their own biases. And more recent searches demonstrated that this process has a major influence on the type of information users see.

Even leaving aside Facebook’s algorithmic choices, the broader social media ecosystem allows people to find sub-communities that match their interests. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re the only person in your community with an interest in birding, you don’t have to be alone anymore, because now you can connect with birding enthusiasts from all over the world. But, of course, so is the lone extremist who can now use the same platforms to access or spread hate speech and conspiracy theories.

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