The case against Meta
Giving people what they "want" isn't necessarily good
In a recent article about TikTok and trends in phone-based entertainments, Ben Thompson observes that “what made Facebook’s News Feed work was the application of ranking: from the very beginning the company tried to present users the content from their network that it thought you might be most interested in, mostly using simple signals and weights.”
The thing I found most interesting was the choice of the word “interested” to describe the quality that Facebook and its competitors’ increasingly sophisticated machine learning tools use to determine what they show users. After all, computers aren’t people and you can’t just tell them “show Matt some stuff you think he’s likely to be interested in.” Instead, as I understand it, the models are trained with some kind of objective reward function. We don’t know exactly how TikTok works or what its reward function is, but it’s something like “it’s good if people watch the video and keep watching more videos on TikTok.” Internal to Facebook, t…
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