The 21st century is the century of truth and misinformation. Here is how you can fight the good fight
The rate and magnitude of information transmission has exponentially increased.
Sadly, the amount of misinformation compared to nuanced and thoughtful facts and educated opinions has also taken a drastic upturn. It’s much easier to put out mindless content than create educated, proven statements.
We saw this over and over again with the Covid-19 pandemic. So it’s no wonder misinformation is listed as one of the major threats to the world by the World Economic Forum. While the pandemic marked the beginning of a major point in history, we were fighting an entirely new battle — one that we never thought would become an issue; the battle between true and false.
But even in the more high brow world we had the likes of Peter Daszak, a well respected researcher and public policy advocate, spreading misinformation without question for months based on his conflicts of interest. Meanwhile Alina Chan, a Harvard molecular biologist, was attacked by Peter and other experts who had a vested financial and reputational interest in ensuring her research on Covid’s origins are delegitimize.
I urge investors, business leaders, and entrepreneurs to dedicate their resources to tackling this great threat. We have enough CRMs, Databases, DevOps apps, and crypto companies for a lifetime. We need to solve society’s greatest challenges; the information war. If we are to fight the good fight, we need to create institutions and incentive structures that favor factual, thoughtful, and nuanced information transmission.
All around the web and the world you see people attempting to make sense of their world using existing technologies. There are now more blogs, podcasts, and Youtube channels from world-leading experts (both insiders and outsiders) than ever before. People are creating “sense-making”, “centrist” or “rationalist” communities on all social media platforms to battle the negative trends we’re seeing.
It’s time for the next iteration. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others did an amazing job at enabling new forms of finding, disseminating, and creating valuable content. But now we know what their downsides are; widespread psychological dysfunction, political polarization, rapid spread of misinformation, and bad faith communication. Let’s create better technologies that incentivize and cultivate the better parts of our nature.
The Failure of Google’s Noble Aims
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, wrote a paper entitled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” as part of their graduate studies at Stanford University. According to Page and Brin, the goal of a search algorithm should be to provide the most relevant and useful results for a given query. They argued that the traditional approach to ranking pages, which relied on the frequency of keywords in the text of the page, was insufficient because it did not take into account the context in which the keywords appeared or the quality of the content on the page.
“The ultimate search engine would basically understand everything in the world, and it would always give you the right thing. And we’re a long, long way from that,” — Larry Paige, 2003.
Instead, Google’s search results are tailored by teams who know how to manipulate the algorithm. So Google built a system that marketers and corporations exploit daily to manipulate the algorithm and rank their products number one in the search results. In fact, this system has encouraged marketers and corporations to make the truth harder to find. Don’t believe me? Google any recipe and see how far down you scroll just to find the ingredient list.
So why have Larry and Paige failed to get us to a better information ecosystem despite having all the world’s resources?
By favoring what is popular, rather than what is true, Google and others actively fail to promote dialectic, truth-seeking, and nuance in favor of engagement; a pursuit based purely on popularity and monetary gains. This eminence-based approach has failed us.
Furthermore, an eminence-based approach can be detrimental to progress and innovation. It discourages the exploration of new ideas or approaches that challenge the dominant viewpoints of experts or authorities. Especially if companies and websites are keen on protecting and increasing their viewership.
On the other hand, evidence-based approaches rely on the careful evaluation of relevant research evidence to inform decisions and actions. Evidence-based approaches are used in many different fields, including medicine, education, policy-making, and business. They are important because they help to ensure that decisions and actions are based on the best available evidence, rather than just on the opinions or beliefs of a few individuals. This can lead to more informed and effective decision-making, and can help to prevent the adoption of practices or policies that are not supported by evidence.
A more relevant example to the everyday public would be buying a house., before buying a house, you may want to be presented with the facts about the house — not so much the opinion of the realtor. This approach is considered more reliable and trustworthy, as it is based on solid data and research rather than just on subjective beliefs or assumptions.
Why Social and Mainstream media are reinforcing these bad habits
The results of a search on Google, or your feed on Twitter, or what CNN reports on, are not an endorsement of the truth or accuracy of the information being presented. But that is how we often treat them..
The primary goal of a search engine, social media, or mainstream media should be to engage you with the most relevant, useful, and truthful information. In reality, they show you what they think you should or want to see.
The results of your feed, your search, or even what you see on the CNN home page, can be influenced by factors like location, search history, personal preferences, content relevance, and page rankings.
What types of companies will define the information landscape of the future
The world is full of noise. People are led astray by false information. Truth seeking is hard. Social and mainstream media spread misinformation. All of this is leading to partisanship that is tearing our country apart. What company can I create to help combat these problems?
There are several ways that you could potentially create a company to help combat the problems of misinformation and partisanship. Some possible ideas might include:
- Fact-checking platform: A platform that fact-checks news and other information to help people distinguish between accurate and inaccurate information. This could be particularly helpful in combating misinformation and helping people to make more informed decisions.
- Curated information platform: A platform that curates news, studies, and other other forms of information from a variety of sources to help people cut through the noise of unmoderated platforms like Google and access a range of perspectives and ideas. By presenting a more balanced view of the news, this could help to counter partisanship and promote more informed discussions.
- Media literacy education: A company that provides education and training on media literacy to help people better understand how to evaluate and critically analyze information they encounter online. This could help to combat misinformation and promote more informed and engaged discussions.
- Social media moderation: A company that provides moderation services for social media platforms, helping to identify and remove misinformation and promote more respectful and constructive discussions.
- Content creation focused on dialectic: You can be the change that modern media needs. Imagine a content platform similar to Vice or Vox without a political agenda and focused on nuanced, high rung dialectic. BigThink is a great example of this.
Overall, there are many different ways that you could create a company to help combat the problems of misinformation and partisanship. The specific approach you choose will depend on your goals and the resources available to you.
My Favorite Approaches So Far
- GPT Chat: The mother of them all. GPT Chat can automatically filter and organize large amounts of information, such as news articles or social media posts, based on a set of criteria and detect and flag potentially false information, which makes it easier for users to find relevant and trustworthy information.
- Perplexity: This is my new favorite tool. I use it for everything I used to use Google for and more. “Perplexity AI is an answer engine that delivers accurate answers to complex questions using large language models.”
- Substack: Substack is a powerful platform that helps authors create, distribute, and monetize their newsletters. It allows authors to easily create a newsletter website with a custom domain and logo, manage subscribers, and send emails..
- Matter: Matter pulls everything you want to read into one beautiful place. With powerful tools, curation, seamless audio and more, we’re building a reader for today’s internet.
- Waverly: Our lives today are filled with noise and distraction. The content you need is scattered through your inbox, your favorite news sites, your social networks. Waverly sifts through all the newsletters, blogs, and specialized publications to bring you only the content you need, directly into a distraction-free mobile app
- Refind: Every day we pick 5 links from around the web that make you smarter, tailored to your interests
- Informed: The news, curated. Get world-class journalism from premium publishers, curated by editors & experts, all in one app.
- Consensus: Consensus uses AI to find answers in research papers.
- Elicit: “Elicit uses language models to help you automate research workflows, like parts of literature review.”
- Farnam Street: A weekly newsletter packed with timeless insights and actionable ideas from a wide range of disciplines.
- Center for Humane Technologies: A non profit that works to make technology more humane, to protect people from manipulation and addiction, and to ensure that technology serves humanity’s highest values. The ultimate goal is to create a healthier and more equitable digital society.
- Interintellect: InterIntellect is an online community that brings together people with a shared interest in learning and teaching. It provides a platform for connecting with experts and peers in any field, from business and finance to science and technology.
- The Consilience Project: “The Consilience Project publishes novel research at the leading edges of global risk mitigation, governance design, and culture. Our content explores the key challenges and existential threats facing humanity, and the underlying problems with current approaches for addressing them. We outline how our social systems and institutions need to be redesigned if free, open, non-authoritarian societies are to survive.”
- The Society Library: The Society Library is a digital archive of humanity’s ideas, ideologies, and world-views; with a particular emphasis on social, political, and religious perspectives.
- BigThink: Big Think unifies the inquisitive and connects the curious, providing a platform to the world’s top thinkers, entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, artists, leaders and experts from every domain.
What does this all mean?
The 21st Century has brought both truth and misinformation, and it is increasingly difficult to discern which is which. In order to fight the good fight, we must transition away from popularity and rage-based algorithms that favor immediacy to evidence-based algorithms that are more likely to produce accurate information.
Doing so will require the development of technologies that are able to incentivize the accurate, nuanced, and thoughtful sharing of information. Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter have had an impact on the way we consume information, but it is time to move beyond these platforms in order to reach a new age for humanity.
We must continue to search for truth and be aware of the potential pitfalls of misinformation in the internet age.