Instead of Blaming Facebook for Our Problems, We Should Look Inward

Oct. 28 2021

Since a whistleblower went public with details about how Facebook chose to ignore various findings about the deleterious effects of its websites, various criticisms of the social-media pioneer have been in the news. In particular, Facebook’s detractors argue that its algorithms tend to show users misleading and inaccurate information, as well as messages that harm children’s self-esteem. Francis Nataf suggests that Facebook might not really be the problem:

The cries for more responsibility are all aimed at government or industry. Yet as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (whose first yahrzeit we are now marking) repeatedly pointed out, in a liberal state, these institutions are not primarily designed to promote morality or to enforce it. Of course, they have a role to play: industry should understand that the legitimate desire for profits does not make everything legitimate; and government needs to support whatever basic moral consensus still exists. But as Sacks wrote in his last major book, aptly titled Morality, morality’s home is primarily in the third sector—voluntary communities that are formed around tighter and more rigorous definitions of what we should be doing to maximize who we are as human beings.

Drawing on a verse from Proverbs, and a rabbinic commentary thereon, Nataf adds that algorithms

don’t make up anything on their own. Their output—like the reflection of our face in the water—is completely responsive to our input. In this respect, then, the blame society is aiming at social-media algorithms is like throwing a rock at the water reflecting the ugliness of our own face.

For if we are allowing ourselves to wallow in partisan hate and never looking at the other side, it means that on some level this is what we prefer. If we are willing to read things of questionable reliability, it means that this is what we want. If we let ourselves be drawn to the bizarre, the silly, and the sexually enticing, this too is what we are ultimately choosing. As in real life, knowing that any of these practices is not optimal is not the same as deciding to live otherwise. No doubt, others, including Mark Zuckerberg, have a part in the blame. But what about ourselves?

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Facebook, Jonathan Sacks, Judaism, Morality, Social media

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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Read more at FDD

More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy