Sunday, February 23, 2020

Social Media is Poison

I mean, I think we all know that. But often it's productive to take a few minutes to go into the "why" that explains the "what." Saying social media is poison is not to say it's bad or worthless. Alcohol is also poison, a poison I'm quite fond of. But you need to know what you're dealing with, what your limits should be, what proper, responsible use looks like.

I live for that feeling when someone says something and you realize, "OH, that thing that I've been thinking/feeling about very vaguely, THAT'S what it is.

This time the trigger for that feeling was this thing that Ezra Klein said while having a discussion with Ta-Nehisi Coates (the whole discussion, of course, is well worth your time):

"Right now there is a weird way in which social media weaponizes the worst or dumbest thing happening at any given moment, anywhere...dumb shit happened in college all the time, including by me, but it didn't have a mechanism to go national, like it does now...

I have to applaud Fox News, they are a national news outfit but they do a lot of local coverage. It's just a really bad kind of it. They are trolling the country looking for something that happened in a town somewhere that is going to activate the demographic threat of their audience. But this kind of stuff happens all the time, and everywhere. So there is this huge capacity to blow up something somebody said in a movement...These things were harder to do before because there wasn't this ability to make them definitional; you still had to deal with the mainstream of most movements, at most times...

I think about this when I listen to people talk about anything--are people focusing on the mainstream of a movement, or are they looking for the parts of it that are discrediting? There isn't a movement, including the ones that I myself are a part of, that don't have things that happen that you don't want to be on the hook for. You can tell a lot about where somebody stands as to whether or not they are engaging with the bulk of what is happening in something, or they're just looking for the parts of it that they can use to discredit it. That will tell you more than almost everything else in the conversation."


I would just add that I'm not trying to be inflammatory or political here. I think the above description is an objective explanation about how much of Fox News operates (and as a person who spent many years mainlining conservative talk radio for many hours a day, this is the exact format of those shows, which Fox News opinion shows have adopted). It's not hard to find many outrageous things that happen every day in a country of 330 million people. But think about how many times in a day you see or experience first hand one of those outrageous things. Mostly never. Strange things happen--we used to treat them like strange things. Now we treat them as representative, when they happen by people we don't like. We have amazing schizophrenic vision--we can see all kinds of nuance and extenuating circumstances in the people that we identify with--we see in stunning black and white the circumstances of the "other" that we don't like. It doesn't have to be this way, but the outrage triggers a dopamine response in our brain. The outrage puts money in tech company coffers when the clicks pour in. The incentive structures are overwhelmingly aligned against understanding, context, and nuance.

I share this because I think if we could recognize how our attention gets harnessed, weaponized and monetized...maybe we would get indignant. Maybe we would feel used. If enough of us don't like the status quo, maybe things could change.

1 comment:

رواد الحرمين said...


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