Pamela San Martin (Mexico, 1977) has been a member of Meta’s Global Advisory Council since May 2022. This Mexican lawyer and electoral consultant joined the body that advises Meta networks on moderation decisions two years after its creation. Her “verdicts” always come weeks after the fact, but they should help Meta improve its policies and actions in the long term. San Martin is only the second to speak Spanish among the 22 members. The first was the Colombian Catalina Botero-Marino.
In these three years since the birth of the Council, many things have happened that have diminished the impact of such a council. San Martin, whose mandate will last three years plus another three if no one stops it, reflects in this interview made by video call from Mexico about these changes and the impact of the networks and his agency on politics.
Ask. He has been working in politics and campaigns for more than a decade. She is now on the Meta Council. What have the networks changed?
Answer. The networks turned the campaigns upside down. Before, the media were the intermediary: they focused on the information they wanted to highlight, which in the media’s opinion was more strategic or important. Even the candidates themselves communicated through the media, the resources they invested in the media were brutal. Not now, now the candidates have become media themselves. They have resorted to other, more disorganized or deinstitutionalized forms of information dissemination, such as influencers. It has been a brutal change.
Q. Is good or bad?
R. It has good and bad parts. It generates a more direct, more bilateral relationship with those who aspire to public power. But losing brokerage also has an impact. The media had audiences. Now in the networks in general, what we have are communities that think the same as me, that seek the same as me, that generate a brutal echo chamber that fragments reality. In electoral campaigns, suddenly the search is how I transcend my community. Even if the one in front gives me a super good argument for why something else has to be done, if I’m going to lose the support of my community, who knows if I’m going to accept it. Another way is sought to access those who are outside of my community in these small fragmented worlds that are being generated and this obviously impacts the democratic debate. It becomes more emotional and opens the doors to making it much easier to generate polarized societies. It is a polarization that almost brings the logic of war into the public conversation: the other is my enemy whom I have to annihilate and with whom I cannot converse. And we do not have the mediation of the media that could serve to clarify the facts a bit, which could serve to counterbalance certain arguments, to put different issues in black and white, even to be able to carry out investigations that transcended this taste for the like. All of this also happens hotly, it is immediate and there is little possibility of stopping to discuss a particular topic.
Q. Now from within the Council you see it the same?
R. The biggest nuance I saw going into the Council was the scale and volume of content. The impact of millions of contents circulating daily.
Q. Each user sees only their screen.
R. Sure and we say why they are not removing this content, if it is very clear, why they are wrong. But when 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, if we had 99% accuracy, which would be great for any system, we would still have 3.5 million errors when analyzing photos. If I want to have more correct decisions, I’ll delete fewer to be more sure that if I delete something it’s done right. Thus I am going to allow an enormous amount of harmful content, of child sexual exploitation.
When problems arise is when we pay attention to what may not be working.
Q. Child pornography is the limit of everything in moderation.
R. It is perhaps one of the most over-applied policies that platforms have in general. The user from Argentina who uploaded the photo of his grandson in the pool, very cute naked, is outraged because his post was taken down and he is absolutely right. But when you look at what it means to apply the rules at scale, you realize it’s about what margin of error you have to learn to live with. It is a vision that I think changes a lot when looking at it from the inside.
Q. What other case in the Council has surprised you the most when you see it from the inside?
R. The application of the policy of dangerous individuals and organizations. By avoiding terrorist content there are enormous impacts on freedom of expression, due to how comprehensive concepts of support, representation, and praise of these organizations can be. It caught my attention and I would not have seen it from the outside.
Q. Since the creation of the Council, Facebook has lost importance. His company is now called Meta. TikTok has a dominant role. Twitter presumes more than being the house of freedom of expression. There have been many changes.
R. It is a step forward to seek self-regulation or co-regulation mechanisms such as the Council. If something characterizes our societies, it is short memory. We forget about problems until a problem arises. When did the council come up again as a topic? When Elon Musk took over Twitter, because he completely turned the logic of Twitter upside down, he saw that there are platforms that do have surveillance control mechanisms. In what context was the Council created? After the Cambridge Analytica scandals. When problems arise is when we pay attention to what may not be working. It is not only the networks or the media that are fragmented. Our attention is absolutely fragmented. We no longer know what to pay attention to: the ruler who wants to become an autocrat or the migrants who are dying or the little animals or the war in Ukraine. It is one of the issues that have changed. When you had traditional fears, there was a little more order in the information. Now our attention is very dispersed and general concern comes when there is an event that brings it to our attention.
Q. Who in politics has benefited most from the emergence of networks?
R. The networks have shown enormous potential to be able to influence elections. Just like before you could have an example of Mexico clearly on television. Now you can have a candidate created by the networks.
The networks have been very useful for anti-establishment or populist candidates who play with emotions
Q. Independent of your ideology?
R. Networks have been very useful for candidates antiestablishment or populists who play with emotions. They can be left or right. Populists were always thought of as those on the left, but suddenly a Trump, a Bolsonaro, an Erdogan emerged. The problem is that societies are becoming more and more, and Spain is no exception, suffering a stretch towards brutal polarisation. We are losing the ability to see the impacts on the other and the unintended consequences of decisions. Sometimes we only think to see if legislation is issued for social networks so that they suppress such content and with that I am going to be happy. But what you don’t see is the unintended impact that regulation is going to have. We no longer have this ability to dialogue, see and converse with experts. Now we are all experts, I read seven tweets and I am already an expert in the history of Spain, and I already have a huge position on whether Vox or Sanchez are good or bad. Overnight we are political analysts. It not only permeates society, but also politicians. They are no longer looking for a factual basis for their interests, what experience has shown us is that it goes the other way.
Q. Who has lost more with the networks in the political game?
R. I do not believe that the networks are a loss for society. I am one of those who think they have enormous democratizing potential, although we have to take care of the damage. But they are on track to generate a huge loss for the media. Many media have been convinced to stretch the league as far as they can. But now financing is very complex. The serious media are shrinking in the spectrum and more and more are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to enter the game of likesof immediate or corroborated information. She had never seen so many headlines with exclamation points in parts of speech. I do believe that this is a loss for society. I don’t transfer the problem to the media, I understand the problems they face and I have spoken with a number of media owners who have given them a ganita, who are doing everything possible, but they tell you that every day it is more difficult.
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Source: EL PAIS