11th December 2023

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Technology and Computer

Bill Ackman: social media pushing humanity to ‘oblivion’

Are social media moguls Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg at fault for dialing up the world’s collective temperature just to earn a quick buck? 

Fellow billionaire and Wall Street investor Bill Ackman blames the duo, along with TikTok CEO Shou Chew, for stoking divisions along racial, ethnic, religious and generational divides in ways that serve to dehumanize the suffering and deaths of innocents.

Whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Threads or Twitter/X, engagement-farming algorithms calibrated to feed users continual doses of outrage to keep them scrolling are helping to entrench hatred, he says.

“Social media has been amplifying the hate for a decade as algorithms wind us up,” the CEO of hedge fund Pershing Square posted to Musk’s platform on Monday.

Addressing both Musk’s and Zuckerberg’s social media platforms directly, he urged them to alter their programming code in such a way as to facilitate people finding common ground: “If we don’t fix this soon, humanity is on a rapid path to oblivion, and it will be too late.” 

The money manager reserved his greatest criticism however for the U.S. subsidiary of China’s ByteDance.  

“TikTok should probably be banned. A foreign government should not be in control of the minds of our next generation of leaders.” 

Social media tool

Social media is similar to other communications tools—in the right hands it has the potential to do good, but in the wrong hands it can be weaponized to cause harm.

Real-time microblogging sites like X and Threads instantly distribute information that often spreads across the internet before it can be verified. Malevolent actors can harness this unique feature to deliberately distribute content lacking in important context in the aim of pulling at emotional heartstrings to further their motives. 

While regulated TV broadcasters are obligated to exercise judgement when airing video footage, there is very little accountability for the content users publish on social media platforms.

This pressures news organizations to follow suit and has been blamed for the failure of many professional news outlets that rushed to report on hundreds of supposed deaths at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza—reports that were later questioned to the extent that the New York Times issued an apology to its readers. 

Deepfake AI

The rise of deepfake AI tools has only made it more difficult for users to judge between what information at any given moment is accurate and what is apocryphal. 

That’s why the European Union, a bloc of 27 different member states with dozens of ethnic groups that have a history of waging war amongst each other, instituted a Digital Services Act in 2022 in an attempt to put guardrails on social media. It has now issued formal inquiries in the cases of X, Meta and TikTok.

Ackman himself has used social media to express his own outrage. During the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists, he pushed to dox and blacklist Ivy League students who did not agree with his political views and blamed the Israeli government for the violence.

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