June 12, 2020

The Epidemiology of Bad Ideas

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about Section 230 and the responsibility (if there is) of the distributor of user opinions. But this discussion is misdirected.

The problem the Internet brings is that it allows for unfettered spread of bad ideas and lies (attributable to some combination of stupidity and malice).

Think of a bad idea like a virus, fact checking and filtering like testing and quarantine, and Twitter and Facebook postings like mass spreading events. From that perspective, what we need is the equivalent  of washing hands and social distancing.

 Any site distributing an idea, a post, a share to more than N people should add some social distance -- a time delay (depending on reach), fact checking, annotating the post or adding a click-through.... sufficient filtering/delay to flatten the curve. How much of their business model depends on posts going viral QUICKLY?

Recently, Carol tried to read me an article about the latest outrageous behavior. But I protested: I'd developed antibodies that protect me from the awfulness.  By continued exposure, nothing was that bad anymore, we had all seen more. And there are teams of people all working full time developing new outrageous things.

So bad ideas spread like viruses. Some people are able to develop a defense, through outrage. The epidemic is spread by "news" organizations and social media as contagious in thought as a mass event is for the virus.

Facebook and Twitter and Google and other social media sites need to implement thought-social distancing to reduce R(0) of a bad idea.

Facebook's ads promoting CDC would be OK if it weren't for the corruption of CDC management by the wave of bad ideas, spread by immune-compromised  individuals (don't recognize ideas as bad) and allowed unchecked by those who exhibit no symptoms (outrage).

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