Can We Redesign the Internet to Be Friendly to the Truth?
Jonathan Rauch in Conversation with Andrew Keen on Keen On
Hosted by Andrew Keen, Keen On features conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers and writers about the economic, political, and technological issues being discussed in the news, right now.
In this episode, Andrew is joined by Jonathan Rauch, author of The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, to discuss what Rauch calls the “Constitution of Knowledge”—our social system for turning disagreement into truth.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: Is digital media the problem or the fix? Or probably both?
Jonathan Rauch: Probably both. Right now, it’s the problem, and the problem is that the architecture of these systems were designed to monetize capturing eyeballs, not to monetize finding truth. And those are two very different propositions, because if you want to capture eyeballs, then of course you want to be outrageous to attract attention, or you want to slur people to create outrage, or you want to spread fake stuff that’s really attractive and fun and very cheap to produce. So the incentives were wrong. And it’s no surprise, therefore, that studies find falsehood spreads faster than truth online.
The internet turns out to be—digital architecture—actively hostile to truth. Puts it in an actual disadvantage. So the incentives are all backwards. And the Constitution of Knowledge is all about incentivizing the true stuff by rewarding people who find stuff that’s true. You get a journalism prize, you get cited, your stories get picked up. It’s a very different incentive structure. So Web 3.0 is—okay, people are not going to give up Facebook or Twitter, even if you think they should. Can we redesign these systems in ways that are friendly to truth instead of hostile the truth? That’s what a lot of great minds are working on. And it’s really hard, because the system was not designed for that.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program and the author of eight books and many articles on public policy, culture, and government. He is a contributing writer of The Atlantic and recipient of the 2005 National Magazine Award, the magazine industry’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. His many Brookings publications include the 2021 book The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, as well as the 2015 ebook Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy. Other books include The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better after 50 (2018) and Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (2004). He has also authored research on political parties, marijuana legalization, LGBT rights and religious liberty, and more.