The Pipes of Information and Their Hold on Us

Those who control the pipes of information, control the world. 

It's a notion I have heard and generally agreed with. Humans are powerful agents in the world. Humans use information to act and human minds can be easily programmed by information. For instance, the "Stop the Steal" movement in the 2020 US Presidential Election, where disinformation led to a significant number of people believing the election was rigged. Controlling information is, in essence, controlling people.

But it wasn't until a recent personal experience that the true impact of this control hit me.

I was excited to launch a new business and decided to run some ads on Meta/Facebook. Imagine my surprise when, less than an hour after submitting my ad, it was flagged for a policy violation. I suspect an automated risk check program had detected some inexplicable issue and also penalized me for being a new ad publisher with a new page. Although the violation seemed thematically relevant to my ad, it was simply incorrect. My only option was to appeal and wait, without even the opportunity to submit a reason for my appeal. 

I waited three tense days, as the fate of my fledgling business was being decided by an anonymous Meta reviewer, who would subjectively evaluate my ad with some mysterious internal policies and processes. My momentum and enthusiasm were dampened, and I figured I may have no option but to ditch the idea and move on. Fortunately, my ad was approved—but the experience left a lasting impression.

A handful of large social media companies, media outlets, technology companies, and regulatory agencies hold the reins of information, attention, and infrastructure. These powerful organizations are, in turn, influenced by select leaders, board members, employees, sponsors, and occasionally, vocal and extreme audience factions. When promoting a business or idea, or when creating an app on their platforms, we are at their mercy, forced to comply and appease them. When we consume information, we are at the mercy of their algorithm and advertisers that prioritize what we see and therefore, think and act.

While I appreciate the existence of checks and policies to prevent societal harm, the lack of transparency,  accountability, or recourse is deeply unsettling. The sobering reality is that one misstep—or simply being labeled as "wrong" by an algorithm, a biased or nonchalant enforcer, or a vocal group—could spell disaster for you and your endeavors.

In a world where information is power, we must advocate for greater transparency and fairness to ensure that control over the pipes is decentralized or exercised responsibly. Otherwise, we risk spiraling into an Orwellian society, where the few dictate the lives of the many. I suspect we may already be there.