We are in the midst of a “tech-lash.” For months, the leading Internet companies have faced a wave of criticism sparked by revelations that they unwittingly enabled the spread of Russian disinformation that distorted the 2016 election. They are now beginning to listen. Recently, Facebook responded when chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company is revamping its flagship News Feed service: The algorithm powering it will now prioritize content shared by your friends and family over news stories and viral videos. The company followed up by announcing it will survey users and potentially relegate untrusted outlets.
The overhaul marks the first major action by any Silicon Valley giant that may curb the plague of political disinformation. It almost certainly will not be enough.
While Facebook’s intentions are laudable, their reach may exceed their grasp. The purveyors of disinformation may indeed need to change their approaches to spreading mendacious or otherwise deceitful content over social media. This is nothing new. News outlets, commercial advertisers and the like have long needed to monitor subtle tweaks of both news feed and search engine optimization algorithms to maximize their page views. Disinformation propagators will respond similarly. They have months to master these changes so that they can channel targeted propaganda and misinformation at individual voters during high political season later this year.