I’m on record a few times now stating that social media is like a cancer. It slowly spreads itself, and unless you’re checking in, it will take over your life.
I deleted Facebook a few years ago, when my youngest was born. I still recall the reason for it, one of my friends on there was posting multiple links a day about some racist conspiracy theory. His volume was filling my feed. I talked to him about it, he was absolutely convinced about the topic and was surrounded by the digital equivalent of walls of “news” articles on the topic. Even if he tried to get out, the algorithm was feeding him more garbage. I wanted none of it, and just deleted everything.
It’s not like things have gotten better. The proliferation of mobile apps made fast food junkies out of many of us. When’s the last time anyone actually read an article that was more than a paragraph? Hell, one that covered a few pages? The pandemic on top of it has made more people turn into hermits and reach out for any type of social link. And the “system” rewards people for taking advantage of this, either with an “influencer” tag, streaming donations, or political aspirations. The more rage-inducing content they can pump out, the more the algorithm feeds eyeballs and $$$.
Tangent for a bit here. The UK election a few years ago, there was a fair amount of online weight that Corbyn was going to win against Johnson. It didn’t matter than Johnson lied profusely, it only mattered that he had sound clips. Johson beat the tar out of him, to the incredulous voices of the interwebs. The echo chamber of the online communities could not bear to hear that any other option was present. Not much different than /thedonald, where if you didn’t tow the line, you were banned. This in effect builds multiple rabbit holes that go in completely divergent paths, and the folks within are either oblivious to the other, or are mortal enemies. It will, at some point, reach enough of a fever pitch that an individual with lesser capacity, will take it as incentive to do something horrible. And then nothing will change.
Autocracies (or dictatorships) are quite similar. They focus on inner circles of sycophants (yes-men) who are only as good as long as they tow the line and say what the “leader” wants to hear. Take a different path, and you’re out on your butt. In reflection, it’s pretty clear that Trump was/is surrounded by this model and the loss of the election turned into his typical – it’s someone else’s fault. Whether he actually believes this or not isn’t relevant, it’s the impacts of that message, and the refusal to accept that a different narrative is possible. It’s created its own echo chamber.
Russia is the more recent example of this, in that Putin’s military information clearly was not accurate. We are 1 month into the invasion of Ukraine and still Russia has not taken a major city. Russia the superpower, with UN veto power, the saber rattling country that has been a boogeyman for decades. He’s been cleaning house of his advisors ever since, which makes you wonder who in their right mind would want to step into those shoes. It bears pointing that even the West has been surprised at the results of this war. Not so much how effective Ukraine has been at resisting, but at how poorly organized Russia’s machine has been. The logistical errors alone are baffling.
I’d be lying if I thought there was an obvious solution out of this. There are historical reference points, but none that can account for the speed of social media and hunger for outlets of anger. I can only help those around me by talking to them, looking at multiple sources of information, and having actual discussions over a coffee/beer. I can supervise my kids consumption, and talk with them about the reality of the content (Mr Beast is neat and all, but I have a better chance of becoming Spider-Man). I didn’t think we’d end up here so fast. Wonder how long it will last.