In this episode of the podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Renée DiResta about Russia’s “Internet Research Agency” and its efforts to amplify conspiracy thinking and partisan conflict in the United States.
This thread is for listeners’ comments.
Hi Sam, as a long time follower of your work I have a couple of questions about your views on the topic of social media platforms and culpability.
How do you reconcile your views on the primacy of free speech and the responsibility of media platforms to censor dangerous ideas? I believe your stance is that ideas should be freely expressed, and that open conversation between rational people will root out the good from the bad. In an ideal society this would work perfectly but as this podcast suggests, sensationalist and conspiratorial ideas are capturing the attention of the majority of people. Is it implied that these people are accepting these ideas and not discarding them? All we see is that people “view” them with clicks. Perhaps they are in the process of coming to terms with these ideas in the manner you suggest. Anyway I would agree with what I believe to be your implication that they are not. Given that it would seem many people do not scrutinise ideas as thoroughly as you do, shown by the proliferation of online BS, and that you call for censorship of certain media platforms, does this illuminate a discrepancy in your worldview? On one hand you trust in the freedom of speech and the investigative nature of our minds to do away with bullshit ideas, yet on the other, seeing the evidence that the masses are buying into the most ‘sexy’ and fantastical ideas at the expense of the boring truth, you call for censorship. If you call for censorship are you in fact admitting that free speech at all costs does not have primacy and that people do not have the ability to think as rationally as you would like? If your problem then is solely the algorithms of social media sites specifically selecting for ideological and fantastical ideas as they are the most ‘clickworthy’, is that not simply indicative of the fault in peoples attention? After all a click is simply an indication of what someone is interested in seeing. A combination of the succeptability of our minds to sexy ideas that capture the imagination and mob mentality often lead to untrue or illogical ideas being accepted over the boring facts throughout human history. I wonder if because for the first time in human history we have accurate, live, and global data on how peoples attention is unfortunately actually being spent, you may not be seeing the forest for the trees. Is the blame on the mind of the average person, who has been shown to be not nearly as scrupulous and sceptical as you might like, or on the social media platform for revealing it?