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How would you change the social networking algorithm to avoid "the social dilemma"?

Image credit: Photo by Joshua Reddekopp on Unsplash

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Sep 24, 2020
“If You're Not Paying For It, You Become The Product”

The Social Dilemma, Netflix



Although social networking sites have brought about positive changes in the world, there are demerits and they are not a secret anymore (from screen addiction and depression to manipulating the elections). Several movements have sprung from the manifestations of the ill-effects of social networking. They are striving to change the algorithm and the laws to make social networking a better experience for everyone.

What changes would you make to maintain the benefits of social networking and simultaneously eliminate the negative side? Here are some examples -
  1. Decoupling social networking and marketing - Will this help? What are the disadvantages here?
  2. No long-term storage of the user data – Browsing data only from the last 15 days (or so) will be stored. Will this work?
What other changes can you think of? How would those help? Alternatively, what are the technological developments happening around the globe to avoid the social dilemma? For example, Tim Kendall’s app “Moment” that hopes to break social media addiction.
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Creative contributions

Blockchain-based Internet Browsing and Access Through the Verified-Accounts Only

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J
J. Sep 24, 2020
A person or a company can access the internet (and thus social networks) only through one registered and verified account that is unique and tightly connected to the identity (ID, driving license, or passport verification). Every keyword, browsing history, edit, or comment on the internet is extremely private, legally protected but built on a blockchain technology that locks the process in time, and is non-changeable. This way, the hacker breaches, online frauds, manipulations, or stealing of personal data could be easily connected to the verified accounts, legally proven by the blockchain technology, and would help to have a more secure online browsing experience. Social networks would become safe environments where privacy is the highest priority.
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Povilas S
Povilas S7 months ago
Maybe I don't fully understand the system you have in mind, but at first glance, this doesn't seem to be very appealing from privacy perspective. And I don't think people would like this. This is the opposite of anonymity. You are forced to always show your true identity (to whoever can access that information). Now at least you can try to hide it. This would make zero efforts for the governments to trace your every step online. It's like walking around with your name, surname, and personal number tattooed on your forehead. I personally would envision something totally opposite - where everyone can be completely anonymous online unless they want to show their true identity. And it would be necessary to show it only when it's really necessary (logging in to a bank or pages with sensitive data, etc.).
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J
J.7 months ago
I understand your worries and I will try to explain it better. I don´t like and support anonymity online or anywhere in public (and online is public). People act more carefully and thoughtfully when in public. Anonymity online would be like an unknown guy on the street wearing a hood. - I see it this way. Nowadays, app and website owners give us access to contents in exchange for our browsing history or private data. Later they sell it to marketing companies that bombard us with perfectly-tailored ads or use it in other freaky ways to enhance their businesses and earn money. You have two perspectives here. 1) The Internet is coming to you in a way that no boring and unspecified ads and contents appear – you save your time and get the things you want; somebody is giving you this opportunity and service, but they need to earn money somehow 2) The Internet is coming to you, spying you and you become a product; somebody earns money on you surfing the Internet and you don´t like being followed. - I am not saying there is the correct one, but I don´t see it as a privacy problem. You can stop using the Internet the same as you can stop going public (coffee shops, shopping centers, etc). You can also choose to block all cookies but then your Internet experience will be limited or you will not be able to use the services. One offline example: if you go to a bank, they will not work with you if you don´t give them your ID. Only then you can use their products, but you become a product, too. You often buy groceries in the shop nearby and pay with card and suddenly, a 20% discount on groceries arrives from the bank. All I am saying, it is everywhere. But if we want safe Internet, I think anonymity should be removed in order to stop online frauds and unwanted breaches/stealing of private data. I agree that private data policies should become more transparent. But it is an offline problem, too. We should rather take it as an opportunity. It would be best if you could have better Internet search accuracy and ad hits, targeting exactly what you want, but at the same time get a small percent of your personal data being sold. That would be nice – like a coupon for groceries.
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J
J.7 months ago
In addition, if you think your privacy is endangered by regular browsing, anonymous browsing is supported by the DuckDuckGo search engine, but then you lose the specificity of the top hits and tailored marketing. Everything else is just like you described. They give you options, but it´s hard to give up the "care" they give us with a personalized approach.

Maybe the governments should step up

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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Oct 02, 2020
Well, the social dilemma- if it is a dilemma of any sort- was a problem created by the algorithm, and the solution to it possibly lies in the design of a new, updated algorithm that doesn't compromise on the user privacy and decouples content-feeding from acute marketing. However, will Facebook and Google do so? It is highly unlikely that they will. After all, they are profiteering corporations and they have their reasons not to comply with these propositions. Hence, one possible solution to this asymmetric power accumulation could be regulation and intervention from the governments worldwide. States could introduce regulations to overhaul the business models that rely on attention-grabbing and manipulation and call for protection of rights to privacy. Maybe every government across the world should start building up state-funded capacitive systems- specific to data usage and social media management- so as to effectively regulate these platforms.

One such idea could be to establish a governmental corporation that looks over the nature of all algorithms before approving them for wide-scale usage by these corporations. Another probable solution would be for the governments to invest heavily and take over data accumulation, hence taking away the concentrated ability of data-power usage from the tech giants. For example, rather than directly giving the data to the corporations, the government funnels all the user data, and the corporations can use it (after legal and ethical clearances) for their specific services/ products. This might sound a bit far-fetched, but could work if planned and implemented strictly.

There may not be just one single solution to this new age problem. It is a systemic and structural issue that can be addressed only with the mix of political, legal and engineering solutions.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni7 months ago
I like the idea of governments stepping up. However, the kind of investments the tech giants deal with is hard to achieve for the governments. So, "active" regulation of the platform by the governments would not easily feasible. What the governments can do best is make amends to the justice system and modify laws and see to it that they are abided by. Also, there have arisen other technological movements that want to make social networking safer. These work by creating new technology. I want to focus, in this session, more on the technological developments that can make the online environment safer. We know for sure that social networking platforms are not going to stop/ take a step back. Therefore, newer, safer technology that counter/ keep these platforms in check needs to be implemented.

Enabling users to sort the feed

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 09, 2020
Instead of "feeding" the users what the platform wants to feed, the users can choose how to sort their feed. Options for sorting can be - chronological, based on popularity (likes, comments), or the personalized feed that is currently invariably provided.

It will, firstly, tell the user that the personalized feed is, in a way, a manipulated/ changed version of the real chronological feed. Secondly, they are free to switch across the sorting methods and do not rely on the algorithm to make that decision for them.

It can also be done for the search engines - the sorting of results by a search engine can be controlled by the user. The search engines can provide sorting options like chronological, based on popularity (number of site visits), or the personalized feed that is currently invariably provided. Moreover, every region (city, state, country) can have a personalized version for that region, which will be standard (not based on any single user's search history) and this can also be one of the sorting options. A standard version for a region will be specific enough for the users from that region but not so specific that it will be different every user. Region-wise personalization will provide specific results associated with the region's history, climate changes, politics, developments, etc. which might benefit the users.

Disabling advertisements for premium users

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 09, 2020
Levy a small fee for premium users who do not want their social feed interspaced with advertisements. This may be a win-win for both the platform and the users. Again, this will also indicate to the user that their feed is being manipulated by adding advertisements. Educating the user regarding the working of the tool is more important.

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General comments

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic6 months ago
Daniel Schmachtenberger influenced "The social dilemma" documentary. In many of his interviews he pinpoints the exact problems we are facing. Here is a recent and very good interview https://youtu.be/Z_wPQCU5O6w
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Povilas S
Povilas S7 months ago
I think both 1 and 2 solutions would be extremely helpful, just it's not likely that this will happen. Removing marketing may make social networks paid. Solution to this could be donation-based social media which would probably be a better thing just because of that. Facebook used to be ad-free some.. I don't know but I think maybe 6 years ago? Or at least it wasn't full of them then. The number of users was already huge then, so I don't think it can't survive without ads. About "no long-term storage of user data" - I don't see a reason why it should be stored at all, except from tracking you.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni7 months ago
Short-term storage and use of the browsing data will be necessary to give the user a personalized experience. The browsing history tells the algorithm what content the user likes to view and can add related material to the feed. But I think you are right, if the user wants to follow a particular person, they can just click "follow". Similarly, if they wish to follow a certain topic, they can simply click and follow it. The algorithm just spoon-feeds the user with associated people and topics. From the point-of-view of the user, not much changes if the social networking site does not store any browsing data.