Biologist Carl Bergstrom will discuss social media disinformation in U-M talk

January 23, 2023


DATE: 4-5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023

EVENT: “The crisis of human collective decision-making in a social media world”

A talk by evolutionary biologist Carl Bergstrom, a frequently consulted authority on disinformation, will look at what social media and information technology more generally are doing to society, consider how we ended up here, and explore some possible suggestions for what we can do about it.

“Individually and collectively, we have evolved to scour our natural and social environments for useful information,” said Bergstrom, professor of biology at the University of Washington. “Over the past 20 years, society has constructed an information pipeline, the so-called Internet 2.0, to satisfy and profit from our evolved desires for novel information and social connection.

“(But) what happens when the scale of human communication is radically transformed in the span of a generation, and our mechanisms for creating collective understanding are upended? What happens when this entire process is not stewarded to promote the spread of accurate information, strengthen democracy and advance human well-being—but rather is to a first approximation engineered by machine learning algorithms to get people to click on advertisements?”

Bergstrom is co-author of “Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World.” In addition to the spread of disinformation on social networks, his research interests include how communication evolves and how the process of evolution encodes information in genomes; how norms and institutions influence scholars’ research strategies and, in turn, our scientific understanding of the world; and how citations and other traces of scholarly activity can be used to better navigate the overwhelming volume of scholarly literature.

INFORMATION: The talk is free to the public, but registration is requested. The event also will be livestreamed.

PLACE: 4th Floor Amphitheatre, Rackham Graduate School, 915 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor

SPONSOR: Center for the Study of Complex Systems (U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts)