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the golden age of disinformation
it has never been easier to check facts but there is no time or reason to do so when we're all so busy being angry.
it’s deeply telling that the selfsame network of data and connection that allows for such unprecedentedly and rapid access to information and fact checking is so often used to circumvent precisely that and peddle misinformation and the fabulist fury of made up sensationalist sentiment.
sure, it speaks, to some extent, of agenda and deliberate manipulation, but i fear it even more so speaks to the emergent properties of the medium itself.
fear, anger, and smug self satisfaction are the holy trinity of clickbait. if they can make you feel one of those things, you click, if they can get you to feel 2 or 3 they can get you to forward.
the apogee of “forward this now” is being angry about a scary outcome and feeling smug about your righteous outrage because you knew better and now you want to dunk on these people so everyone can see it.
we all fall for it.
it’s the human condition.
and this means that internet media is the literal tangible manifestation of our collective atavistic fears and tribalism pouring out because we keep falling for the rage merchants and taking their contrived and calculated signals of reasons to be furious and cluster into tribes and wielding them like a spinning morning star of virtue signaling as gospel and personal mission because its scratches the ich of our sub rational brain functions.
fear means limbic on, rational mind off. this makes anger a base state response because anger in the face of fear feels strong and like doing something. you drop your sense and sensibility and seek simply answers loudly shouted about who the THEY is that did this to US.
this means that stupid and infuriating becomes the signal.
it also means that it’s our fault, not theirs and that it is WE who need to change because until we do, THEY cannot.
in the internet age, you get the media content you demand. you get the ecosystems of fear and rage you deserve.
media can see instantly what gets clicked on and this endless, relentless A/B testing turns our emotional failings into their editorial process and content directory.
there are 1000’s of purveyors of information competing for your attention. this drives relentless, real-time competition to be EXACTLY what you demand and nothing else and when you demand to be scared and enraged and validated in your self-satisfied tribal membership, well, that’s what you get. good and hard.
it turns the internet into a voting machine whereby the audience of a horror move ballots in real time about what monster would be scariest in the next scene and then unfailingly delivers just that focus group tested avatar to menace them.
the world is full of weird stories, bad takes, and outright liars chasing fame or pathology, and this engine of fear and rage causes them to be sought out and injected like chunks of sharp sand into the collective oyster of social happiness until we all react in irritation and produce pearls of pay per click.
that’s how you get this:
you find a doctor telling completely made up stories about a made up problem. no one fact checks it. it’s complete fabulism. and it’s hardly isolated or new.
doctors claiming crazy things about ICU’s and publications proclaiming imminent hospital collapse have been de-rigeur all covid. the number of fake, easily debunked stories about “there was no open ICU closer to boise than connecticut” abound, but it’s all just inflammatory twaddle cut from whole cloth to suit the needs of mendacious menace and manipulation. and there seems to be no penalty for finding the doc having an emotional breakdown or seeking to jussie smollet his or herself for a few minutes of fame. so why stop?
“a rolling stone gathers no facts…”
it’s also far from new. i mean, anyone else seeing a pattern here?
pretty soon, we’ll get some sort of meme convergence and you see headlines like this one from longterm gatopal™ @ElonBachman
call it parody if you like, but given the current state of media, can you really be sure? hell, i suspect rolling stone is flat out jealous they did not think of it first and some angry upbraidings are going in the the editorial office.
but the issue here is not the evil of the editors and reporters. it’s the fact that the speed of the cycle and the desperateness of the competition as the plurality of outlets spreads like mushrooms after rain. it forces them to act not to inform humanity but to enable it.
and this means they are not our friends. worse, it means they cannot be our friends.
it means they are the ones telling you to shoot up more dopamine because all the kids are doing it and that playing to your additions, predilections, and hardwired emotional needs is the only game in town.
if they don’t, someone else will and attention will shift thereto. it’s a 10,000 sided prisoner’s dilemma with “pander to rage and fear and tribalism to enable smug, self aggrandizing virtue signaling” as the “defection” state. you’re gonna get low equilibrium. every time.
and then that crashes into social media, the means by which so much news now propagates. and that just feeds further addiction and the most gamified and precicion accounted form of human interaction yet devised turns the sharing of content and conversation into yet another layer of A/B tests and pursuit of atavistic terror and fury so we can signal our morality and status. it just ends up chasing dopamine. and so you wind up here:
a scattered, angry, fearful click monkey seeing validation through performative signaling of allegiance to in group. this is not a nice place.
but it is also a place of our own making. we did this. we conjured it into being by the force of collective will and preference.
this is not media’s fault. they did not do this to us. we did this to them.
what choice do they have? if they do not give us what we clamor for, they die. they go out of business. their whole business model IS attention so they MUST be exactly what WE tell them to be and WE are telling them we want the world’s most abusive nanny to fill our lives with anger and hallucinated conflict.
so maybe, like, we should stop, you know?
step one is awareness.
feel that rage and fear. learn it. understand the signal that’s making you act so inimically to your own self interest. feel it well up, feel the actions it seems to demand of you, and learn to tell it “no.”
knowledge of self is power to shape the self. embrace the process and learn to turn it into something more useful. transfer that energy to something else. stop clicking on things that make you mad, and fewer things that make you mad will be produced.
if you need to forward it, forward images, not links. that breaks the chain of feedback and monetization. it stops paying media to prey on your base emotions.
seek out and spread nuance, not nastiness. foster dialogue not diatriabilsim and competitive aggrievement.
the internet will be what you click and what you forward. we are 100% in control of the movie that’s going to be playing next week and next year.
claiming we are not is like blaming the supermarket whose produce section you refused to shop in for filling your cart with ho ho’s and frosted sugar bombs and giving you gout. that’s not on the stop and shop. that’s on you.
so fill your cart with better internet and the internet WILL get better. it will adapt to you, to us. it has to.
break that circle of recursive rage and you can find a cycle of self-reinforcing content curation and nuance to inform rather than inflame.
say no to this ouroboros of opprobrium.
say yes to: