Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Social media's globe-shaking power.

Like many of you, I am more than completely overwhelmed by recent political events and the avalanche of thoughtful commentary on them. I am one of a group of retired guys here in Fort Lauderdale whose members have been spamming each other with interesting articles we find. I am particularly struck by a piece from NYTimes columnist Farhad Manjoo on how the world I assumed I was living in has been shattered. Below are some edited and rearranged clips.

Starting with the recent election...
...widespread misinformation spread online was a primary factor in the race’s outcome...On Monday, both Google and Facebook altered their advertising policies to explicitly prohibit sites that traffic in fake news from making money off lies. That’s very likely a worthwhile fix, even if it comes too late. The internet has loosened our collective grasp on the truth...the dangers posed by fake news are just a symptom of a deeper truth... social media (such as Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram, Twitter, Weibo, etc.) has become an increasingly powerful cultural and political force, to the point that its effects are now beginning to alter the course of global events.
The election of Donald J. Trump is perhaps the starkest illustration yet that across the planet, social networks are helping to fundamentally rewire human society. They have subsumed and gutted mainstream media. They have undone traditional political advantages like fund-raising and access to advertising. And they are destabilizing and replacing old-line institutions and established ways of doing things, including political parties, transnational organizations and longstanding, unspoken social prohibitions against blatant expressions of racism and xenophobia...by putting out a message that resonated with people online, Mr. Trump hacked through every established political order...Most important, because these services allow people to communicate with one another more freely, they are helping to create surprisingly influential social organizations among once-marginalized groups.
There has been a
...shifting of the "Overton Window,” a term coined by the researcher Joseph P. Overton to describe the range of subjects that the mainstream media deems publicly acceptable to discuss...From about the early 1980s until the very recent past, it was usually considered unwise for politicians to court views deemed by most of society to be out of the mainstream, things like overt calls to racial bias (there were exceptions, of course, like the Willie Horton ad). But the internet shifted that window...now each person with once-maligned views can see that he’s not alone. And when these people find one another, they can do things — create memes, publications and entire online worlds that bolster their worldview, and then break into the mainstream. The groups also become ready targets for political figures like Mr. Trump, who recognize their energy and enthusiasm and tap into it for real-world victories...the Overton Window isn’t just shifting on the right. We see it happening on the left, too. Mr. Sanders campaigned on an anti-Wall Street platform that would have been unthinkable for a Democrat just a decade ago.
Mr. Trump is just the tip of the iceberg. Prepare for interesting times.

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