Why Content Moderation on Social Media Is Pointless

Content moderation or censorship on social media doesn’t solve any problem because it’s only suppressing the symptoms. The cause is elsewhere. Niall Ferguson has an interesting take on the issue, but focusing on the content won’t allow us to get to the root of the matter.

Much of this problem stems from the fact that efficiency is not actually desirable beyond a certain point. That is, efficiency has a sweet spot beyond which it creates more problems than it solves, personal as well as social. The curve that represents the benefit of efficiency is non-linear.

Big Tech is a brute force of efficiency, and we are seeing the adverse effects of efficiency. Marshall McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. Social media, for instance, is very efficient in stimulating the release of dopamine. It wastes no time between one thing that can trigger it and the next. So, dopamine release became the point of consuming content for most readers. It’s not about curiosity or about discovering new things.

Social media is also very efficient in creating a sense of community. Because we can so efficiently find people who share the same values, there is no reason for tolerating any disagreements. Even a subtle disagreement becomes intolerable. A sense of belonging becomes just another way to produce dopamine. The same is happening in music. Because the algorithm is so efficient at finding the music we like, we have no patience in listening to ones that are even slightly off. The same is true for online dating and shopping on Amazon. We demand a perfect match and have no tolerance for anything less.

Because a mob can convene quickly and efficiently online for a very specific ideological position, we have become scared of people ganging up on us and causing real damage to our careers and personal lives. Pissing off a few random people has no real consequences, but if a thousand people join their forces, the damage becomes material. Even if you are nobody, saying one wrong thing can provoke the wrath of thousands, if not millions. If you think about it, this is a problem of efficiency.

In other words, we live in a world of confirmation bias that maximizes dopamine release and minimizes the effects of withdrawal. This is not the problem of the content but of the medium or the algorithm. The message of social media is not what it contains but the unintended consequences of what the algorithm does. The message of a medium is often unpredictable in this way.

So, in my view, the only solution is to re-introduce inefficiency, but I realize this is an impossible task, trying to convince the public that efficiency is bad for them.