The Age of Misinformation

Coverage Type: 

[Commentary] There are two big problems with America’s news and information landscape: concentration of media, and new ways for the powerful to game it.

First, we increasingly turn to only a few aggregators like Facebook and Twitter to find out what’s going on the world, which makes their decisions about what to show us impossibly fraught. Those aggregators draw—opaquely while consistently—from largely undifferentiated sources to figure out what to show us. They are, they often remind regulators, only aggregators rather than content originators or editors.

Second, the opacity by which these platforms offer us news and set our information agendas means that we don’t have cues about whether what we see is representative of sentiment at large, or for that matter of anything, including expert consensus. But expert outsiders can still game the system to ensure disproportionate attention to the propaganda they want to inject into public discourse. Those users might employ bots, capable of numbers that swamp actual people, and of persistence that ensures their voices are heard above all others while still appearing to be humbly part of the real crowd. What to do about it? We must realize that the market for vital information is not merely a market.

[Jonathan Zittrain is a professor at Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government.]

The Age of Misinformation