On Jul 1, I'm giving a seminar on how Big Tech distorts our discourse for the Oxford Internet Institute. It's free to attend, but you need to RSVP:

This is a really urgent question, since it's pretty clear that our discourse is a mess, from fake news to conspiracism to the rise of authoritarian, genocidal movements.


The dominant explanation for this is that Big Tech accidentally created a mind-control ray.

They wanted to sell us fidget spinners, but in perfecting the tools to bypass our critical faculties in order to sell us stuff, they inadvertently created a superweapon that the worst people on Earth are using to turn us into eugenicist end-time preppers.


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I think we should be skeptical of this claim. Everyone (until now) who's claimed to have invented a form of mind-control was a charlatan or a deluded fool (or both). Big Tech's claims to having perfected the tools of persuasion are self-serving and unreliable.

Big Tech wants its advertisers to believe that machine learning and mass surveillance can sell fidget spinners to anyone, so they repeatedly make claims to having perfected mind-control.


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These claims are marketing puffery, not peer-reviewed science.

I think there's a simpler explanation for our distorted discourse: Big Tech has used lax anti-monopoly enforcement to create an environment where a handful of companies dominate what information we see and how we can discuss it.


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This means that anyone who hijacks the system - evil SEO scum, etc - can inject false claims into our discourse in ways that seem true (if you ask Google for the age of a celeb or a pol, you'll probably accept the answer, even if it turns out wrong).

It also means that people with disfavored views - some of which I support (Black Lives Matter), others I despise (white nationalism) - can find each other without risking social sanction by publicly proclaiming their views.


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It means that people who have lost trust in the system - for good reasons, such as the skepticism of pharma regulation on the part of survivors of the opioid epidemic - can be easily located by those whose message is that experts are corrupt.

If our discourse is poisoned by monopolism and corrupt institutions, it's both bad and good news: good news because we have no idea what to do to fight mind-control rays, while in theory it's simple (but hard) to fix monopolies and bad institutions.


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The bad news is that both of those can be VERY hard, but on the other hand, there's rising political will to make institutions accountable and break up oligarchic markets from all sides, and not just for tech - these problems plague every sector.

The coalition possibilities are dazzling.

I wrote a preliminary essay about this for EFF Deeplinks, and I've got a 37,000-word pamphlet on the subject coming soon.

I hope to see you on Jul 1!


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@pluralistic Follow-up question: What are your thoughts on, SideWiki, ThirdVoice, Reframe It, and web-annotation-layer efforts in general?

Can you recommend reading resources or talks, comparing and contrasting the differing approaches of these efforts, and what led to the outcomes they got?

@matt I haven't used 'em - I worked with the ppl at W3C where they were very good allies, so I have a generally good impression of them, though.

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