[Social Credit and the 19th CCP Congress (2)] People’s Daily: One Should Not Let Algorithms Determine Content

One Should Not Let Algorithms Determine Content

Xuan Yan

People’s Daily, October 5, 2017, p. 4

With the advent of big data and the wide application of artificial intelligence, some commercial websites, mobile news clients, including live broadcasting platforms, browsers, internet search engines, audio-visual software, and so on, are using algorithms to “read minds”, to tailor information to the user, and to create a new personalized reading experience. The acquisition of information has changed from the model of “finding a needle in a haystack” to the model of “individual customization”. However, technology is often a cold two-edged sword. In the weighing of values and interests, so-called algorithms have become the standard weight of interests. Everything revolves around the traffic volumes of websites, the number of clicks, reposts are blindly followed, clickbait headlines are spreading uncontrolled, while the value orientation is deviating, and content has been reduced to an appendage.

In an internet world submerged by “an explosion of internet celebrities”, individuals’ attention has become a scarce resource, and the “100,000+” followers, the million-hits podcasts have become the competitive chase of the “eyeball economy”. Under the pretense of providing custom services and accurate delivery, some platforms have turned algorithms into a tool to skirt the line. The infringement of original works, and the illegal production of information are a common occurrence. Whether it is an intentional search for an entry, or the inadvertent opening of a link, stereotyped and repetitive homogeneous information, casual opinions, fallacious reasoning, harmful teachings, all kinds of commercial advertising, not to mention those lively, variegated rumours and slanders, careers that have been embarked upon by vying in all kinds of beauty and glamour – all of it, is endlessly pushed on to an audience who is forced to accept it. Just like the moment when a hornet’s nest hits one’s face, persons in the “cage” of the algorithm have been “beaten black and blue”.

Advanced technology should bring about the treasure cave of Alibaba, not Pandora’s Box. Just as financial services’ return to the real economy makes sense, so it is time for algorithms to return to the origins of service content, without putting the cart before the horse, and without letting algorithms drag content by its nose. Technology may change, transmission channels may change, but the kingly place of content will not change and cannot change. Once it leaves authoritative and impartial news reporting, and it leaves positive and healthy information content, even the most powerful algorithm will be like water without a spring and like a tree without roots. Some new media platforms say they are only “news carriers”, and it is sufficient for them to “carry” results, while a large quantity of information of unknown source, that aids and abets wicked deeds fills up the cyberspace. Those “carrying” something must follow the rules and take responsibility, they must definitely not be unruly, and even less must they use the excuse of automatic distribution to satisfy readers’ demand as an excuse to beat around the bush.

One’s actions start with oneself, and one’s reputation starts with others. Algorithms hide the designer’s standpoint, and there are new media platforms frequently adjusting and modifying algorithms. Is this technological innovation? Of course not. It is nothing else but using algorithms to maximize the number of shares, get more and more clicks. In the final analysis, it is a search for the maximization of benefit. Internet enterprises are not “public opinion enclaves”, also they should uphold the unity of social benefits and economic benefits. They should shoulder the social responsibility that belongs to the media, not forget where the water they drink comes from, repay society, and benefit the People. Content pushes many a “editor-in-chief”, and a “safety valve” must be installed on even the best algorithm, to strengthen checks on content. One should not blow his own bugle and sing his own tune, shouting his own horn. The transparency of platforms must be improved, channels established by users must be unblocked, the choice of information must be given back to users, and we should not let the bad money drive out the good money. We should uphold the correct guidance of the public opinion, strengthen guidance in values, optimize the mode of delivery combining “manual recommendation + intelligent screening”, vigorously spread and carry forward mainstream values, and not let the “meaningful” be replaced by the “entertaining”.

Algorithms are not the law of the state, and even less are algorithms’ decisions about content the Way of the King. Only if algorithms will return to the role of serving content, keep a different attitude, acquire depth and warmth, they will allow persons to freely swim in an ocean of information, to freely fly in an clear and unclouded sky. Only then will the blue waves of the space of the internet ripple, sending out an unending stream of positive (correct) energy.

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