Granted, what they are trying to do is impossible.
Years ago, potential jury members were being interviewed in the case of a man charged with drunk driving.
One prospective juror, when asked by the judge to give any reasons she might not be able to be impartial in this case, gave an obviously heartfelt reply.
“My brother was convicted of drunk driving three times and was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison,” she said. “He was barely 20, our father had just died. He needed drug treatment, counseling. Instead, they sent him to prison. He lost his wife, his kids. Now, he doesn’t drink anymore, but he can’t get a job either and he’s living back at home. He needed help, social services, medical treatment; not punishment.”
Needless to say, that potential juror was dismissed. As was the very next juror who stood up after her.
“My brother was also arrested and went to jail for drunk driving,” potential juror number two said, in an equally heartfelt tone. “ It was the best thing that ever happened to him and he hasn’t had a drink since. The courts didn’t punish him; they saved his life.”
Two people, two similar situations; two completely different moral takes on the same subject.
Which one of them is morally “right”- juror number one, or juror number two?
What if it’s neither?
What about the people who were chosen as jurors? Maybe they were right.
They would have been the ones who promised to ignore any moral qualms they may personally have about the impartiality and fairness of the U.S. justice system, one way or another. Those chosen would have promised to find in accordance with the letter of the law- rather than the dictates of their own individual consciences.
Maybe they are right? Maybe personal values systems don’t matter as much as the official values system we have all agreed- in theory, anyway- to adopt in the form of laws.
So, who is right? And, more to the point, who decides who is right?
Mark Zuckerburg? Jack Dorsey?
Let’s say Zuckerberg and Dorsey are going to morally arbitrate this particular question. In their infinite wisdom, they decide to go with juror number one. A more compassionate approach, and drug treatment, is the right thing to do. In so doing, and for the greater good, they suppress all information to the contrary and the sharing of any such information.
Why not? It’s their company, right? Plenty of evidence to support such a position.
Let’s say you agree and you’re happy about this.
Now, what if they had chosen otherwise?
Any student of history would have to conclude that if Facebook and Twitter were created prior to the McCarthy era, it would have been conservatives, not liberals, running the increasingly conservative echo-chambers, content moderation, and cancel culture mobs on Twitter.
Let’s say these alternate versions of Dorsey and Zuckerberg, who were products of their conservative day, decided juror number two is right; punishment, and more of it, is the only thing that will work.
Plenty of evidence to support this theory, too. Evidence, as any scientist and attorney knows, can be cherry picked to paint a picture.
With those firm hands on the levers of information, controlling the flow, deciding right from wrong, what couldn’t Dorsey and Zuckerberg accomplish? With that kind of power, they could attempt to engineer almost any outcome.
What if they get it wrong? Because by someone’s standards, they are bound to- sooner rather than later.
If social media has exposed anything about humanity, besides the fact that more of us could afford to keep our opinions to ourselves, it has been the true diversity of the human race.
Diversity is much more than the way we look, our ancestry, language, country of origin, sexual orientation or anything else; where we diverge from one another the most is in the way we all think.
In this, each member of humanity is as unique as a snowflake. No label can fit more than one of us. All the demographic classifications mankind is heir to still can’t predict how an individual will think. Anyone who thinks they know what group X thinks about topic Y, just hasn’t met enough members of that group yet.
Just look at families; each one is a microcosm of proof. Many siblings, who share the same genetic material, the same family, same socioeconomic status, same methods of upbringing, same quality of education- even identical twins- don’t think alike, even if they do very much resemble each other.
Because we all think so differently, about almost everything under the sun, there is no ultimate moral authority all of humanity would be willing to accept, whose moral judgements would go unquestioned. Practices some cultures find morally reprehensible, utterly unjustifiable, are considered perfectly normal, even the height of morality, by other standards.
For instance, consider the way our culture treats people who have died.
In the U.S. in 2021 it would be almost certainly illegal, and definitely considered immoral, to leave a loved one’s deceased body exposed to the elements on a mountaintop to be consumed by carrion birds and other scavenging animals. Americans would consider such an act criminal, callous, disrespectful, and morally repugnant.
In other cultures, however, consigning the bodies of the dead back to nature in this way is considered a sacred funereal duty. Some cultures have funeral rites Americans would find even more objectionable, including some who consume the flesh of deceased ancestors.
For the entire human family, there is almost no subjective human morality; only some who think they know better than everyone else, some who think those people are right, and an equally large number, and usually larger, of people who think they are dead wrong.
None of this is to say that questions of morality, of ultimate truth and the enlightenment of humankind aren’t important questions worthy of examination and action; they are.
But Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and other so-called social media “Masters of the Universe” aren’t the ones to tackle ultimate human truths, nor any army of content moderators they create.
Such things are the domain of faith leaders, philosophers, scientists, futurists and gurus, doomsday prophets, seers and others who don’t lack for certitude but who do lack for the kind of mass audience and nontransparent control over the flow of information enjoyed by ZuckerbergDorsey Inc.
You can’t content moderate, censor, or engineer humanity into homogeneity and harmony. Insulating human beings from the unbearable lightness of living with each other is a job too monumental for any social media manager, however accomplished or influential they may be.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)