Friday, January 08, 2021

A reality-challenged America of echo chambers and cults

Following the recent drama of a mob motivated by a fraudulent theory briefly taking over America's capitol building I want to pass on a number of interesting pieces relevant to these times in which the behaviors of followers of Trumpism, QAnon and Election fraud conspiracies seem to mirror those of Wokeness and Critical Race Theory. Cults of the right and left provide motivation and reassuring 'theories of everything' to explain society's ills. 

Farhad MKanjoo writes on how the sprawling online conspiracy network QAnon is at the center of Trump's attempt to overturn the election. 

 A PNAS journal club article and a brief review by Wright, "Shouting in a Political Echo Chamber," describe work by Wang et al. on a model showing how polarization emerges on social media during political campaigns

 Edsall, in a typically scholarly piece, reviews debate on whether the sociopathic role of social media in spreading and reinforcing broad acceptance of lies has wrecked free speech enough to require a rexamination of the right guaranteed by the first amendment. A debate has broken out over whether the once-sacrosanct constitutional protection of the First Amendment has become a threat to democracy.

 LaFrance gets even more cosmic in her Atlantic article titled "Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine" (if you have time for only one of these articles, I guess this is the one I would recommend). Having resisted the temptation to pass on clips from the articles referenced above (the post would get to long), I will go ahead with one clip from LaFrance, who says that Facebook

...took the concept of “community” and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web’s logical conclusions. That’s because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California.
The giants of the social web—Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram; Google and its subsidiary YouTube; and, to a lesser extent, Twitter—have achieved success by being dogmatically value-neutral in their pursuit of what I’ll call megascale. Somewhere along the way, Facebook decided that it needed not just a very large user base, but a tremendous one, unprecedented in size. That decision set Facebook on a path to escape velocity, to a tipping point where it can harm society just by existing.
Limitations to the Doomsday Machine comparison are obvious: Facebook cannot in an instant reduce a city to ruins the way a nuclear bomb can. And whereas the Doomsday Machine was conceived of as a world-ending device so as to forestall the end of the world, Facebook started because a semi-inebriated Harvard undergrad was bored one night. But the stakes are still life-and-death. Megascale is nearly the existential threat that megadeath is. No single machine should be able to control the fate of the world’s population—and that’s what both the Doomsday Machine and Facebook are built to do.


No comments:

Post a Comment