Weekend Roundup: How to Curb the Mobocratic Algorithm of Social Media


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

Wael Ghonim is the internet activist who helped spawn the Arab Spring in Egypt with his Facebook posts. During those heady days in Cairo, as he explains in an interview with The WorldPost, Ghonim came to realize that, “the algorithmic structure of social media amplified and abetted the turn to mobocracy” because it is designed to bring together those with common passions and sympathies irrespective of whether the information they share is truth, rumor or lies.

In our present moment, says Ghonim, “Donald Trump is the living example of the damage mobocratic algorithms can do to the democratic process.” The challenge has thus shifted, he says. “While once social media was seen as a liberating means to speak truth to power,” Ghonim argues, “now the issue is how to speak truth to social media.”

Since “people will be as shallow as platforms allow them to be,” he explains, Ghonim proposes that the big social media companies focus on creating a “meritocratic algorithm” that rewards credible information and dialogue, not just the broadcast of “sensational content” to the like-minded.

As Nick Robins-Early reports, the Pirate Party in Iceland may soon have the chance, at least in coalition, to test social media in governance. If the anti-establishment party is elected in this weekend’s vote, among the pledges they’ve made is to change the constitution to a crowdsourced document.

In a short essay based on a recent speech in Beijing, I note the irony of how the U.S. election campaign has helped achieve some of China’s cherished strategic aims. “By saying America might cast off the burden of allies,” I write, “U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has already planted the long seeds of doubt among leaders in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president, likely only says what many are thinking when he questions American staying power and recognizes the need to forge a closer relationship with China.” I also note that opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP ― by both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Trump – has derailed President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia by challenging its central plank.

Writing from Manila, Richard Javad Heydarian reflects on Duterte’s declaration during a state visit to Beijing earlier that he would “separate” from his country’s long reliance on the United States. “The Duterte administration is intent on transforming China from an embittered territorial rival into a partner for national development,” Heydarian says. Our Hong Kong partner, the South China Morning Post, reports that an official paper in China, The People’s Tribune, editorializes that “China needs a Mao-like strongman leader, and President Xi Jinping fits the bill.” Indeed, this week the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee elevated Xi to the status of a “core” leader. 

Dean Obeidallah observes another irony of the American presidential campaign. The Trump attack on Khizr Khan – the father of an American Muslim soldier killed in battle – has turned Khan into a proud emblem of tolerance and diversity who now appears in a new video ad for Hillary Clinton. “As an American Muslim,” Obeidallah writes, “I shed tears watching this video because for once my community isn’t being equated with terrorism.”

Turning to the ongoing refugee crisis, this photo essay documents what it was like as the French government closed down the famous “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais this week and began dispersing the residents throughout France. In the chaos of the closure, Willa Frej reports, “children as young as 6 are being turned away to sleep in the street.” She also reports that one of the last open routes for refugees to Europe — the Mediterranean sea between Libya and Italy — is one of the most treacherous.

The senator-mayor of Beauvais-sur-Matha, France, Corinne Imbert, writes: “The humanitarian situation had become a dire concern of the highest priority. In that sense, the dismantling of the ‘Jungle’ is a good thing. But one must wonder how in France, the land of human rights, such a place could have thrived for so long.” Markus Berktold, the mayor of Seeg, a small village in Bavaria, writes about how his small community of 3,000 is helping refugees to integrate. From Lampedusa, Italy Angela Giuffrida profiles Pietro Bartolo, a 60-year old doctor who, for most of the last two decades, has been the only physician treating refugees and migrants on the island. Giuffrida recounts some of the many harrowing tales of rescue and desperation from Bartolo’s recent book, “Salt Tears.”

As American-led airstrikes pound targets nearby as part of the assault on Mosul to dislodge the self-proclaimed Islamic State, WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones talks with some of the Christian families who took refuge from ISIS at the ancient Mar Mattai Monastery in Iraq. “We are so tired,” one middle-aged man tells her. “It’s always war, war, war.”

Writing from Abuja, Nigeria, Mercy Corp’s Ghilda Chrabieh reports on “the unseen hunger crisis” now afflicting the same people who survived the terror of militant group Boko Haram. Tom Saater documents the “humanitarian catastrophe” emerging there with striking photos from the ground.

Margaret Levi looks back at the prescient thinking of Rosa Luxembourg, who, in her book “Accumulation of Capital,” theorized at the turn of the 20th century about globalization and the downward pressure on wages from technological innovation. 

In a beautifully written essay, Calvin College’s James K.A. Smith recounts how his millennial students found their “’hitchhiker’s guide’ to a secular age” in the works of philosopher Charles Taylor, who was recently awarded the Berggruen Prize. In the essay Smith quotes novelist Julian Barnes as saying, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” And he says that Taylor’s meditations on secularism suggest to those pondering a leap of faith that it is, “better to pray in the ruins than settle for disenchantment.”

Nick Visser reports that the long-sought transition to renewable energy is well underway. In 2015, he writes, “more than half of all of energy generation capacity added came from renewable sources.” 

The Future of Life Institute’s Ariel Conn details a conference at New York University that explored, “the ethical questions behind artificial intelligence.” “Though most people involved in the field of artificial intelligence are excited about its development,” she writes, “many worry that without proper planning an advanced AI could destroy all of humanity.”

Finally, Singularity this week looks at the impact of digital technology in the workplace. “While many focus on a massively automated future,” Raya Bidshahri explains, “technology has been changing the nature of work for years. Widespread connectivity and computing are rapidly decentralizing the workforce.”



EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Co-Founder and Executive Advisor to the Berggruen Institute, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Executive Editor of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Suzanne Gaber is the Editorial Assistant of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is News Director at The Huffington Post, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s news coverage. Nick Robins-Early and Jesselyn Cook are World Reporters. Rowaida Abdelaziz is World Social Media Editor.

CORRESPONDENTS: Sophia Jones in Istanbul.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar (First Look Media), Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera), Dileep Padgaonkar (Times of India) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).


CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khannaare Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council and Council for the Future of Europe serve as theAdvisory Council — as well as regular contributors — to the site. These include, Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Luis Cebrian, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei KudrinPascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon MuskPierre Omidyar, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel RoubiniNicolas SarkozyEric Schmidt, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter SchwartzAmartya SenJeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry SummersWu Jianmin, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Ahmed Zewail and Zheng Bijian.

From the Europe group, these include: Marek Belka, Tony BlairJacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar IssingMario MontiRobert Mundell, Peter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.


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