Friday, January 12, 2024

My book, Algorithms and Misinformation

Misinformation and disinformation are the biggest problems on the internet.

To solve a problem, you need to understand the problem. In Algorithms and Misinformation: Why Wisdom of the Crowds Failed the Internet and How to Fix It, I claim that the problem is not that misinformation exists, but that so many people see it. I explain why algorithms amplify scams and propaganda, how it easily can happen unintentionally, and offer solutions.

You can read much of the book for free. If you want a single article summary, this overview describes the entire book:

If you are interested in what you might get from skimming the book, you might be interested in a bit more: If you want part of what you might get from reading the entire book, you may want all the excerpts: I wanted this book to be a part of the debate on how to solve misinformation and disinformation on the internet. This book offers some practical solutions. It was intended to be an essential part of the discussion about viable solutions to what has become one of the biggest problems of our time.

I wrote, developed, and edited this book over four years. It was under contract with two agents for a year but will not be published. The full manuscript had many more examples, interviews, and stories, but you can get some of what you would have gotten by reading the book by reading all the excerpts above.

Some might want to jump straight to ideas for solutions. I think solutions depend on who you are.

For those inside of tech companies, this book shows how other companies have fixed this and made more revenue. Because it's easy for executives to unintentionally cause search and recommendations to amplify scams, it's important for everyone to question what algorithms are optimized for and make sure they point toward the long-term growth of the company.

For the average person, because the book shows companies actually make more money when they don't allow their algorithms to promote scams, this book gives hope that complaining about scammy products and stopping use of those products will change the internet we use every day.

For policy makers, because it's hard to regulate AI but easy to regulate what they already know how to regulate, this book claims they should target scammy advertising that funds misinformation, increase fines for promoting fraud, and ramp up antitrust efforts (to increase consumers' ability to switch to alternatives and further raise long-term costs on companies that enshittify their products).

Why these are the solutions requires exploring the problem. Most of the book is about how companies build their algorithms -- optimizing them over time -- and how that can accidentally amplify misinformation. To solve the problem, focus not on that misinformation exists, but that people see too much misinformation and disinformation. If the goal is to reduce it to nuisance levels, we can fix misinformation on the internet.

Through stories, examples, and research, this book showed why so many people see misinformation and disinformation, that it is often unintentional, and that it doesn't maximize revenue for companies. Understanding why we see so much misinformation is the key to coming up with practical solutions.

I hope others find this useful. If you do, please let me know.

1 comment:

Richard Reisman said...

Excellent, readable review and tutorial on the problems with "wisdom of the crowd recommenders," and how to shift to "wisdom of the trustworthy."

For those knowledgeable about recommenders, the chapter on "Wisdom of the trustworthy" may be especially enlightening and relevant to current concerns.

I have been writing about similar ideas as "wisdom of the smart crowd" -- but with respect to abuse, agree that being trustworthy is at least as important. My new broadening synthesis on "middleware," which I am suggesting be thought of as "contextware," is complementary to Greg's work (