There’s a decent chance that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will see this story. It's relevant to his interests and nominally about him and the media and advertising industries his company has managed to upend and dominate. So the odds that it will appear in his Facebook News Feed are reasonably good. And should that happen, Zuckerberg might wince at this story’s headline or roll his eyes in frustration at its thesis. He might even cringe at the idea that others might see it on Facebook as well. And some almost certainly will. Because if Facebook works as designed, there's a chance this article will also be routed or shared to their News Feeds. And there's little the Facebook CEO can do to stop it, because he's not really in charge of his platform — the algorithms are.
This has been true for some time now, but it's been spotlit in recent months following a steady drumbeat of reports about Facebook as a channel for fake news and propaganda and, more recently, the company's admission that it sold roughly $100,000 worth of ads to a Russian troll farm in 2016. The gist of the coverage follows a familiar narrative for Facebook since Trump’s surprise presidential win: that social networks as vast and pervasive as Facebook are among the most important engines of social power, with unprecedented and unchecked influence. It’s part of a Big Tech political backlash that’s gained considerable currency in recent months — enough that the big platforms like Facebook are scrambling to avoid regulation and bracing themselves for congressional testimony.
Should Zuckerberg or Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey be summoned to Congress and peppered with questions about the inner workings of their companies, they may well be ill-equipped to answer them. Because while they might be in control of the broader operations of their respective companies, they do not appear to be fully in control of the automated algorithmic systems calibrated to drive engagement on Facebook and Twitter. And they have demonstrably proven that they lacked the foresight to imagine and understand the now clear real-world repercussions of those systems — fake news, propaganda, and dark targeted advertising linked to foreign interference in a US presidential election.
Among tech industry critics, every advancement from Alexa to AlphaGo to autonomous vehicles is winkingly dubbed as a harbinger of a dystopian future powered by artificial intelligence. Tech moguls like Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk and futurists like Stephen Hawking warn against nightmarish scenarios that vary from the destruction of the human race to the more likely threat that our lives will be subject to the whims of advanced algorithms that we’ve been happily feeding with our increasingly personal data. In 2014, Musk remarked that artificial intelligence is “potentially more dangerous than nukes” and warned that humanity might someday become a “biological boot loader for digital superintelligence.”