Former Facebook executive cautions social media giants are a ‘threat to democracy’

The attention-based business model of social media companies is a threat to democracy, said Tim Kendall

Reuters/Tech Desk October 15, 2020
The social media network declined to deploy it for fear of offending conservatives. PHOTO: AFP

Former director of monetisation at Facebook, Tim Kendall believes social media giants are a danger to democracy and could potentially cause a US civil war.

Kendall urges social media giants to make changes in order to prevent an awful outcome.

“Extreme outcomes are the logical end conclusion if there is no action on social media reform during the increasing destabilisation of civil society,” says Kendall while speaking to Fox News.

Kendall is now the CEO of Moment, a company that says it is “fighting to reimagine the tech industry as one built for its users” and appears in Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma, reports The Independent.

“The attention-based business model of social media companies is a threat to democracy. Full stop,” said Kendall.

“We as users are attracted to content that entertains us and reinforces our views. ‘Big social,’ as I call it, knows this and presents information that will keep us coming back to their platforms.

“These corporate practices encourage online tribalism that exacerbates the societal division we see today amid unprecedented economic, climate, and public health turmoil.

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“I truly believe things will not get better until tech companies move away from creating exploitative products that drive conflict over conversation, division over unity, and misinformation over truth.”

Kendall said that he agreed with former Google employee Tristan Harris, who has described the tech industry as “big tobacco for our brain.”

Harris, stressed that technology firms should do more to connect people in positive ways and steer away from trends that exploit human vulnerabilities.

Problems include the spread of hate speech and conspiracy theories, propelled by financial incentives to keep users engaged alongside the use of powerful artificial intelligence on platforms like Alphabet’s YouTube.

“Big tobacco, big auto, and big social all share something in common: at the center of their business model is an ingredient that is severely detrimental to the world,” said Kendall.

“Big tobacco relies on nicotine, big auto relies on fossil fuels, and big social relies on user attention to generate revenue. None of these practices are sustainable for a healthy society.”

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Kendall said that a series of steps are essential to better control social media’s impact on society.

“First, until the financial incentives are removed these companies will continue to operate by creating social media addicts of its users,” he said.

“Second, we need better regulation. No industry, including tech, should be in the position to regulate themselves.

“Third, we need innovation to help people take back their lives from their devices.”


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