And…the worst case? I asked.

“Facebook might have won already, which would mean the end of democracy in this century,” Lanier said. “It’s possible that we can’t quite get out of this system of paranoia and tribalism for profit—it’s just too powerful and it’ll tear everything apart, leaving us with a world of oligarchs and autocrats who aren’t able to deal with real problems like pandemics and climate change and whatnot and that we fall apart, you know, we lose it. That is a real possibility for this century. I’m not saying I think it’s what’ll happen, but I wouldn’t count it out. There’s evidence every single day that it’s what’s happening.”

Take the amount of misinformation about masks and COVID-19 that was flying around Facebook and Twitter daily and in turn making its way onto Fox News. Most of the people who appear on air on Fox, Lanier pointed out, are themselves on social media, getting their information or lack thereof. And so disinformation goes from Twitter to Fox to the social media feeds of the president, and the cycle begins anew. Look at how powerful these platforms could be, to the point where “the sway of media is more powerful than the experience of reality—that people can be watching hundreds of thousands die from this virus and yet believe it’s a hoax at the same time, and integrate those two things. That’s the food for evil,” Lanier said.

Hjalmer Duenow @hjalm