This is the demand of a group of scientists. They’ve not the first clue about the subject under discussion therefore they should be given lots of power. Power to regulate the thing they’ve no clue about.
The thing is social media. They posit, rightly, that being able to communicate with millions near instantly is different from being able to grunt at the 15 others you’ve gone mammoth hunting with. Therefore this ability to communicate with millions near instantly must be studied. Well, OK.
We could and probably should answer with Chesterton’s Fence. Why is it that being able to communicate with millions near instantly over social media so popular? Because to the human bits of our brains this is in fact very like being able to grunt at the 15 we’re mammoth hunting with. It appeals to humans because it’s very like what makes humans human.
But then comes the big switch:
The emergent functional consequences are unknown. We lack the scientific framework we would need to answer even the most basic questions that technology companies and their regulators face.
OK, so we’re all clueless.
In response, regulators and the public have doubled down on calls for reforming our social media ecosystem, with demands ranging from increased transparency and user controls to legal liability and public ownership. The basic debate is an ancient one: Are large-scale behavioral processes self-sustaining and self-correcting, or do they require active management and guidance to promote sustainable and equitable wellbeing (2, 19)? Historically, these questions have been addressed in philosophical or normative terms. Here, we build on our understanding of disturbed complex systems to argue that human social dynamics cannot be expected to yield solutions to global issues or to promote human wellbeing without evidence-based policy and ethical stewardship.
We’re clueless but it is really, no, seriously, important that us scientists be given power over social media so that it can be properly controlled. Even though, did we already say this?, we’re clueless.
And that’s science that is so shut up and agree.
There is no viable hands-off approach. Inaction on the part of scientists and regulators will hand the reins of our collective behavior over to a small number of individuals at for-profit companies. Despite the scientific and ethical challenges, the risks of inaction both in the present and for future generations necessitate stewardship of collective behavior.
Quite so, put the wise people in power, eh? What could go wrong?