Sundance 2020: Facebook, tech platforms incentivize polarization

Camille Elemia
Sundance 2020: Facebook, tech platforms incentivize polarization
'We are your dystopian future. If we don’t fix this information ecosystem, if information warfare continues, we are being manipulated,' says Maria Ressa

PARK CITY, United States – At a 2020 Sundance Film Festival panel, media experts and artists denounced Facebook and other technology platforms for “incentivizing” polarization in society.

Karim Amer, director of the documentary The Great Hack, said technology, powered by capitalism, is “complicitly exacerbating” social divisions.

“Facebook has become a crime scene but we don’t have the apparatus to make it accountable,” Amer said. (READ: Facebook: A decade of data scandals and controversies)

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa warned Americans that if they do not act, they will become the next Philippines.

“It is the core of the problem; it is an accelerant. It is designed to work at our worst trait to enflame anger to create ‘us versus them.’ It is the design of the platform to be like that,” Ressa said.

“We are your dystopian future. If we don’t fix this information ecosystem, if information warfare continues, we are being manipulated. The difference between The Great Hack and Rappler is that we are the victims. Freedom of speech is being used to stifle freedom of speech. That’s what we are doing right now. Any narrative inconvenient for people in power get pounded. It was a new weapon,” Ressa added. (READ: Exclusive: PH was Cambridge Analytica’s ‘petri dish’ – whistle-blower Christopher Wylie)

Hypocrisy and compassion

So how do we fight this phenomenon?

Amer called on the people to be more compassionate with the people they disagree with.

“Look at those who we disagree with as victims, not as people we should be scared of…. We have to leave compassion,” Amer said.

“We have to realize that in an effort to leave empathy out, we are at war and that the people we are competing with see the rule of the game the same way they do…. They view democracy as a one-way street,” he said. 

Bridgit Evans, executive director of Pop Culture Collaborative, a grantmaking body that seeks to transform the narrative landscape around minorities in the US, said the organizarion is eyeing to lose the mindset that “a single story can create enduring change.” 

“We have to create entire ecosystems of stories that are deeply related to each other, with different pluralist ideas,” she said.

Amer said Americans do not truly care about what happens to other nations. This, he said, has to stop.

“I think what upsets me is that we are talking about human rights and democracy, when in reality we live in the world where we don’t value human rights in the same way,” Amer said. “We don’t care because we think it does not affect us. We do sometimes when we see an image of the Amazon burning. But Syria burning? Human life doesn’t resonate, millions dying…. Our hypocrisy is what makes fascism contagious.”

“We can get them if we are all in it together. We have to remind [each other], you can hate me but you’re stuck with me,” he said.

Toni Kamau, producer of Softie, a documentary on the struggles of activism in Kenya, shared a similar sentiment and cited Cambridge Analytica’s influence in a 2013 political campaign in her nation as shown in The Great Hack.

“Just because a story happens in a far-flung place, it does not affect you. We are interconnected.” – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com