Before the web, before iPhone, Netflix, and Facebook, the physical limits of radio, television, and print technology meant that we had to share. We had to share the airwaves and primetime and the headlines because they were limited resources.
In the pre-Internet world print was the cheapest communication to scale and thus the most variable. Anyone with a few hundred bucks could print a newsletter but these self-published efforts were clearly inferior to the major newspapers. You could tell yellow journalism from Pulitzer winners just by the look of the typography and feel of the paper in your hands. This was true with books and magazines as well. Quality of information was for the most part synonymous with quality of production.
To put on a radio or TV show you had to be licensed and you needed equipment and technical skills from unionized labor. Broadcast was more resource intensive and thus more controlled than print and thus more trusted. In 1938 The War of Worlds radio drama fooled otherwise skeptical Americans into believing they were under attack by Martian invaders. The audience was fooled because the show was presented not as a radio play but a series of news bulletins breaking into otherwise regularly scheduled programming.
The Broadcast technologies of the pre-social media world coerced us into consensus. We had to share them because they were mass media, one-to-many communications where the line between audience and broadcaster was clear and seldom crossed.
Then came the public Internet and the World Wide Web of decentralized distribution. Then came super computers in our pockets with fully equipped media studios in our hands. Then came user generated content, blogging, and tweeting such that there were as many authors as there were audience members. Here the troll was born.
Before the Internet the closest we got to trolling was the prank phone call. I used to get so many prank phone calls as high schooler in the 1970s that I simply answered the phone with a prank: â€œFBI HQ, Agent Smith speaking, how may I direct your call?â€ Makes me crack up to this day!
If you want to blame some modern phenomenon for the results of the 2016 presidential election, and not the people who didnâ€
Every time you share a link to a news article you didnâ€
I can see that a few of my favorite journalists and Facebook friends want to blame our divided culture, the spread of misinformation, and the outcome of the election on Facebook. But thatâ€
From a tech perspective, there are a few things Facebook, Google, and Twitter can do to keep us from trolling each other. Actually, Google is already doing most of these things with their Page Rank algorithms and quality scores for search results. Google even hires human beings to test and verify the results of their search results. Thus, itâ€
The following advice is for Facebook and Twitter from admiring fanâ€¦
First, hire human editors. Youâ€
Second, give us a â€œdislikeâ€ button and along with it â€œtrueâ€ and â€œfalseâ€ buttons. â€œLikeâ€ or â€œretweetâ€ are not the only legitimate responses that human beings have to news. I like the angry face and the wow face but those actions are feelings and thus difficult to interpret clearly in argumentation and discourse. Dislike, true, and false would create strong signals that could help drive me and my friends to true consensus through real conversations.
Third, give us a mix of news that you predict we would like and not like. Give us both sides or all sides. And use forensic algorithms to weed out obvious trash like fake news sites, hate groups with nice names, and teenagers pretending to be celebrities.
A/B test these threeÂ ideas, and better ones, and see what happens. My bet is social media will be a healthier place but a small place with less traffic driven by the need to abuse each other.
Before social media our personal trolling was limited to the dinner table or the locker room. Now our trolling knows no bounds because physical limits donâ€