"The main binary in American politics now may not be between left and right, but between fiction and reality. At some point, fictions must be revealed as no more than fictions — and they must be switched off". - Bruno Maçães, NY Times, Thursday
"People who do not share truths can’t defeat a pandemic, can’t defend the Constitution and can’t turn the page after a bad leader. The war for truth is now the war to preserve our democracy.
It is impossible to maintain a free society when leaders and news purveyors feel at liberty to spread lies without sanction." -Thomas Friedman, NY Times
"One impediment to healing is that we now all have our own news ecosystems to feed our selection bias, reinforce our prejudices and dial up our outrage. In recent days I’ve been tuning to the conservative outlet One America News, and it’s the simplest way to travel to another planet: On that planet, Democrats are engaging in massive election fraud and trying to steal the election. If you live on that planet, with Facebook feeds that reinforce that fiction, you’re not inclined to sing “Kumbaya.”"- Nicholas Kristof, NY Times
Bill Maher's first guest on Real Time last Friday, Tristan Harris - a computing guru- gave a dire warning about using social media. That is, because of the manipulation that goes on - especially for the lower brows who get their news exclusively on Facebook- their brains are being subtly shaped, and scrambled. This is owing to a program that's endured for ten years now that is effectively "3 billion Truman shows" in the words of Harris.
He went on to explain that even a man and wife on Facebook who might have the same friends, will nonetheless see completely different feeds, realities. These different news feeds are based on algorithms dictating what is most likely to keep each addicted to FB and its "likes" structure, which encourages spreading rot.
Thus, Facebook, as well as other social media, basically "took the shared reality we have and put it through a paper shredder, and gave each of us a micro-reality in which we are more and more certain that we're right and the other side is wrong. And it's totally confused us. We're ten years into this process now."
Adding: "Because of the competition for attention the companies starting to get really aggressive, about what they could dangle to get you to click, or come back."
Harris even went into how these techies can use algorithms to get a person to pause before deleting his or her Facebook account. According to Harris: "All of a sudden you will see these five faces, of five friends, with the message, 'They're gonna miss you! :('"
As Harris waxes on about the use of these manipulating algorithms:: "It's destroyed the mental health of our teenagers. It's polarized our societies, addicted each of us. It has really warped the psyche we're in the middle of with this election. Much like a psychotic patient who has a mind fractured against itself, our national psyche is now fractured against itself."
He asserts we have been seriously confused by all of these realities which have warped all of our perceptions. He even cited one poll to prove the extent, noting Republicans believed one third of Dems were LGBTQ folks, when only 6 percent are, And Dems estimate one third of Repubs earn a quarter million bucks a year when only two percent earn that much money. As Maher then responded, these split realities are especially dangerous now because "a great deal of the country is going to believe this election was stolen."
Conspiracy "theories" - or what I more accurately call ideations - prosper and expand in social media because clicks and 'likes' are most rewarded by the algorithms. From these "recommendations" are generated. Harris again:
"Youtube for example recommended Alex Jones conspiracy theories 15 billion times. This is more than the combined traffic of the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian and FOX News combined. Conspiracy theories are especially dangerous because they're like a trust bomb. They warp your perception of everything that comes after."
And that was before Trump himself took a flame thrower to the election's legitimacy by refusing to concede, and mounting spurious court cases across the nation. This was even as he dug in and dispatched traitor sewer rats like Lindsey Graham to echo his voter fraud lies.
To be sure, social media, like Tik Tok, Facebook, and Instagram, was meant to expand the universe of voices, lower barriers to getting one’s message out to the world, and foster democracy across the globe. But what we've beheld in the past few years is actually a splintering of voices combined with a pathological spread of conspiracy ideations - which have undermined trust in our electoral system as well as leaders, e.g.
In effect, the ability for self-expression has been nearly overwhlemed in its value by a miasma of misinformation in which both the well-intentioned and malicious have engendered a reality in which what’s false is painted as true. Or, if we use Tristan Harris' arguments, billions of such realities.
Consider just one example: a Facebook group called “Stop the Steal” that has promoted gigabytes of blatantly false misinformation and had more than three hundred users during the week. It has since been removed, but the number itself is still significant. Psychologists - like my niece Shayl - are quick to point out there is a material effect to seeing so many others engaged with and consuming the same information.
The sheer volume of sharing alone - say beyond just one limited community - conveys the feeling that there must be something there — that something about all this must be true. But this is bogus. A result of too many millions having their brains subject to influencers instead of genuine information sources. Just look at the example of the conspiracy wacko Alex Jones getting 15 billion "recommendations" from Youtube - as Tristan Harris noted to Bill Maher. But all it really amounted to was 15 billion recommendations to go gobble bunkum.
Worse, as Harris also noted, as the misinformation spreads, and the disparity between mainstream sources and “alternative reality” outlets and groups online grows, a sense of shared reality slips away. Thus, Harris' quote that: "Social media (with its algorithms) took the shared reality we share and put it through a paper shredder."
Harris' other critical point is how conspiracy ideations have become the toxic fruit of social media interactions. This is because they spread so easily, e.g. 'Biden and the Dems stole the election', because too many users lack critical thinking today - hence are way too gullible. They mistake quantity of consumption, of a meme or claim, for informational validity. In fact, the volume of consumption is generally inversely proportional to informational validity. But this is the case with most conspiracy ideations, i.e. that the Dems harbor elites who are Satanists and practice pedophilia and child sacrifice.
What this means now is that social media - such as Facebook- form a kind of experiential base around which a false idea of reality can grow and find a fertile bed to propagate. In many ways it's like a latent virus, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting - and one reason why the biochemist Jacque Monod (in his great work, 'Chance and Necessity') used the term "mind virus".
The effect of the infestation of the current mind viruses has been to create a parallel reality in gullible social media users' minds. Thus, there is a world in which Trump remains the "savior" of all those children the Dem elites would sacrifice to Satan and he is also a brilliant president. In that twisted mirror world, COVID-19 is both overblown and an excuse to curtail civil liberties. Meanwhile, Hollywood is a ruse meant to harvest chemicals from babies, and film phony scenes of ICUs loaded with actors playing sick Covid patients. Oh and Bill Gates wants a Covid vaccine to implant nanobots into citizens to control them. And a slew of other nonsensical falsehoods that millions believe without smell test or questions.
Well, the answer is intimately tied to how social media shifted to the algorithmic fracturing of our minds noted by Tristan Harris. Along with the festering conspiracy bunkum and attendant brainwashing, it paved the way to believe Covid was just a "hoax" created by liberals and Dems to take Trump down. This was since neither the Mueller investigation or impeachment worked. If this was true - in the Trumpers' minds - then why not vote for the guy? This would at least provide some protection against how he was being hounded by the "libtards". So, Reeptards to the rescue. Indeed, a number of Ohio voters even proclaimed before the election that they were voting for Trump because they "felt sorry" for him.
All of which played directly into Trump's orange paws - and would have seen another Trump term (and likely turn to total authoritarianism) had the sane voters not outnumbered the zombies. Especially providing the margins in the key swing states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania) called the "blue wall".
The takeaway then has been that social media has undercut the noble ideal of knowledge as a wedge against tyranny. This was expressed clearly by one of the Founders, James Madison:
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
Popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy -- or perhaps both.
By contrast to Madison's injunction to citizens to "arm themselves" with real knowledge, conspiracy ideations — everything from birtherism or QAnon to climate denialism — reveal a form of voluntary mental disarmament. We then come to decide what is true because so many others are sharing it (though they are all wrong) or believe that the truth (Biden won fairly) doesn't mesh with one's gut. This dynamic manifests on Facebook through groups or posts in which people put up conspiracy "theories" and then create communities as more and more people latch on. Tristan Harris also pointed out to Bill Maher he can always tell if people will latch onto a conspiracy ideation - if they already accept one (e.g. like the Deep state are out to get Trump)
Back in the 60s and early 70s fringe ideas - like JFK having Marilyn Monroe murdered- remained on the fringe because the gatekeepers of media would keep them out. So it would have been nearly impossible to get one’s QAnon ravings into a newspaper because editors would have to vet them first.
But on Facebook, in the realm of conspiracy ideation, one can still essentially post anything that appeals to primal emotions or feelings about the world. I.e. that the system is rigged, that the elite are corrupt, that something fishy is going on, This garbage then accumulates in suspectible minds and spreads as they share the garbage. The garbage is also self-sustaining. On QAnon groups, for example, minor details or statements are endlessly parsed for clues, and over time the very act of engaging with the material sows more suspicions and helps to solidify a twisted world view.
Then, as the posts and reactions pile on top of one another, a feedback loop is created: the act of participating in the community reinforces one’s belief in those ideas, thus solidifying a world view that is at odds with what is true.
This weekend we will get live, three-dimensional imagery of this mental derangement and conspiracy infestation in action as thousands of Maga-heads descend on D.C. Will they ever come to their senses and stop screaming or signing 'Stop the Steal!' Maybe, but if they keep their heads buried in warped social media- especially that promotes CT garbage and memes- it isn't likely. So we may be saddled with these bitter, disengaged sore losers for 4 years. Who may even, as security analyst Malcolm Nance warned on Real Time, form para-military terror cells a la ISIS in Iraq.
Especially as their use of technology allows the possibility of any paranoid, insane idea to take hold, take root, and then erupt into something far more insidious and widespread. It undercuts what can be known, and what can be agreed upon. James Madison hoped we'd all agree on a central knowledge but this is no longer the case. That's because too few possess the higher order thinking skills needed to separate fantasies from facts.
And until the companies and governments with the power to do something about it act, then what is real will continue to get overshadowed. The truth will become just one more opinion among many, and will be lost in the cacophony of a digital storm, with the storm getting more malignant by the day. As today's Colorado Springs Indy editorial concluded ('Resurrecting Reality', p. 3):
"We're left with the perhaps insurmountable challenge of putting the toothpaste back in the tube. After all the lies, the distortions, and the malicious fantasies of the Trump years, how do we resurrect reality and reclaim our nation's sanity?"
Well, resurrecting sanity will be a challenge, especially when you have elder, demented actors - like Jon Voight- spouting and spreading vile garbage about Biden being "evil", e.g.
Jon Voight claims
that "Biden is evil."
"Ten days before the US election, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted a short video of Joe Biden with the caption: “BIDEN ADMITS TO VOTER FRAUD!”
In the clip, the Democratic presidential candidate said that his campaign had “put together the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organisation in the history of American politics”.
It was, in fact, an absent-minded slip of the tongue. Mr Biden was talking about his campaign’s voter protection project — an initiative designed to combat voter suppression. But the clip was carefully edited to imply otherwise and swiftly exploded on social media.
The video garnered some 20m views on Twitter in the US in its first few days, quickly becoming one strand in a thriving conspiracy theory that rampant fraud means the 2020 election has been “stolen” from US president Donald Trump.
The allegation, routinely amplified by the president and a loyal group of rightwing online influencers, is supported by dozens of related rumours that have proliferated across internet platforms and some rightwing media outlets since the vote — in many cases presented with doctored or out-of-context videos and charts.
In reality, Mr Biden has won the election — receiving 5m more votes as of Friday’s count and commanding a majority of the Electoral College. US election security officials said on Thursday that the vote was “the most secure in American history”. But the conspiracies continue to proliferate in a sign, researchers warn, that the fundamental principles of political campaigning may have shifted permanently....
But the various conspiracy theories have not emerged in a vacuum. Researchers at New York University found that Republican candidates or groups have spent around $210,000 since July running nearly 350 adverts on Facebook that used the words “rig”, “fraud” or “steal”, gaining as many as 9.4m impressions and suggesting the Republican party had prepared for an election stand-off."
Donald Trump taught America a great lesson. He showed that this nation has a huge number of racist, sexist, jingoist, gay-hating, Muslim-hating, Hispanic-hating bigots – those Hillary Clinton called a “basket of deplorables.” Trump attracted them by millions through his endless attacks on blacks and other minorities. Deplorables clung to him to the bitter end. Now that Trump is heading for eventual oblivion, where will they go?