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Imagine you’ve just come across an article with a title that perfectly summarizes the way you feel about a topic or subject. Are you really going to read that whole article, or are you going to share that article blindly with all of your friends and family on social media?
Imagine the deliciousness of an article with a suggestive title along the lines of “Donald Trump Will Be In Prison By 2024” or “The Vaccine Is a Sinister Depopulation Shot For Your Kids.” C’mon, be honest. You know that you are going to blindly fire away, sharing that article far and wide as a way of signaling the way that you feel about a certain topic. You’ve been triggered, and there’s no stopping you. And that’s exactly the type of behavior that Facebook and Twitter are now looking to prevent with new features that prompt users into reading articles before sharing.
Read Before You Re-Tweet
Back in mid-2020, Twitter announced a new “Read Before You Re-Tweet” feature designed to get people to actually read the article they were planning to share with the Twitterverse. As Twitter warned users, “Headlines don’t tell the full story.” In fact, it might turn out that you don’t agree with anything the article actually has to say once you really dig into the topic. And, after taking the painstakingly long time of 2-3 minutes to read the full article (an eternity in internet time!), you might realize that your initial emotions have cooled off a bit. “Some tweets are best left in drafts,” warns Twitter, and nothing could be more true.
From what we know about this Twitter experiment, it has been a huge success. The “read before you re-tweet” prompt led people to open articles 40 percent more often than if they had not been prompted. That would seem to suggest that many people are actually sort of reasonable, and are open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, it makes sense to know what they’re actually sharing with their online tribe. Admittedly, we don’t really know if these people read the full article after opening it. But, hey, it’s a start.
Read Before You Share
Not to be outdone, Facebook is now unveiling its own version of the same feature, known as Read Before You Share. Facebook is rolling out the feature to just six percent of its global user base as a test. If all goes well, it could become a staple feature of the social network. If users attempt to share an article without reading it, Facebook users will get a pop-up message that says, “You’re about to share this article without opening it.” This will be a warning that users could be missing key facts or the overall context if they blindly share without reading.
The social media thought police is coming for you
Ok, sounds good so far, right? But it’s important to view “Read Before You Re-Tweet” and “Read Before You Share” as part of a broader trend, in which social media giants are trying to anticipate what you have to say so that they can stop you from posting certain kinds of content. What types of content? Well, just about any type of content that disagrees with the conventional media narrative. If you’re going to post anything about vaccines, you better not be doing anything to give momentum to “vaccine hesitancy.” If you’re going to post anything about politics, you better not be posting any content that might challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election. (Stop even thinking about the #ArizonaAudit!)
You see, social media companies have been investing quite a bit of money into artificial intelligence, and the new class of AI bots are getting quite good at predicting, finding and eradicating certain types of human behavior. Twitter, for example, can now provide a prompt if it detects that you are about to use “offensive or hurtful language.” And Facebook is becoming quite proficient at detecting which types of content might be “disinformation” or “misinformation.” In many ways, it amounts to a sort of internet thought police.
A PR ploy?
It’s easy to see why Facebook and Twitter are introducing these new features. They are getting so much pressure from legislators and agitators to do something – ANYTHING! – to clean up their social networks that they are focused on simple, effective ways they can restore a semblance of order and rationality to the content people post online. So, from this perspective, a feature like “Read Before You Share” is just a PR ploy. If these types of features lead to a massive downward spike in the amount of content that people produce and consume, do you really think Facebook and Twitter will continue to roll them out?
Furthermore, policing so much content on a global level is close to impossible without the use of AI, and that’s where things could get really dicey. Do humans really want to be at the mercy of the AI bots when it comes to what they can or cannot say? Do you really want the internet thought police coming for you every time you tweet or post? For that reason, it’s best to be skeptical about any new feature that needs to be implemented by AI bots rather than by humans. Censorship by bots is not just censorship, it’s tyranny.