Russia explodes our social media myths


I love a lot of things about Silicon Valley, which is probably why I went to work for a tech company after almost 20 years working for print media.

I love the newness and optimism of the place, the sense that the next American century might be rising up all around you, as opposed to the resignation and nostalgia that pervade so much of the country (like the industrial Northeast, where I grew up).

I love the way defiant tech visionaries — Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg — have managed to reshape the culture itself and redefine our sense of community, in a way that few Americans ever will, and well before they hit middle age. I love how they brought back the zip-up cotton hoodie, which once seemed destined for permanent obscurity

I love all of that, still. But even those of us who’ve long championed the transformative power of digital technology have to step back now and acknowledge the reality that becomes clearer with every new revelation of Russian bots and planted posts — that all of these innovations could also be used to dismantle our democracy, one bogus tweet at a time.

And if you’re one of these tech titans who built a media behemoth like Facebook or Twitter, it’s time now to admit that your social media revolution rests on some dangerous myths.

“Information wants to be free” — that was one of the catchphrases you heard a lot in the early days of the web. It meant not only that you shouldn’t have to pay for content, but that we didn’t need gatekeepers anymore. News was flying through the air in real time now, and you would be able to share or consume whatever you wanted, without anyone having to package or validate it.


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