So… I’ve had kind of an interesting intellectual and emotional journey in the last few days!
It started with hearing this recent BBC World News Service program “Can an algorithm be racist?” Which started me wanting to learn more about computer algorithms and how influential they can be. Which through the same source led to this from 2017, “How Powerful is Facebook’s Algorithm?” and then I found a lovely panel discussion from 2019 “Can algorithms be trusted?“
At some point I checked Wikipedia to check something on ideas and uses of internet memes. Many people may bag on me for using Wikipedia, and I do as a matter of fact understand how hard the editors there must work to keep the articles up to date and un-vandalized! People do some pretty crappy things sometimes, seemingly, for laughs. Note that seemingly, it comes into play later! Anyway, I have always found it to be a reasonably reliable place to start ones researches overall. Contentious at best as a primary source for a research paper or news report… it’s always better to dig a little deeper into a topic when and where you can, but I was just trying to make sure I had some idea of how memes are used and propagated in internet culture and this time they did not disappoint!
So now, my ADHD blessed and deep-dive-on-a-topic-of-interest prone brain was buzzing with thoughts and questions of how pervasive computer algorithms are in our daily lives to an extent that neither television nor radio perhaps never were, and how completely isolating the ‘filter bubble‘ can be. I was thinking about how input biases and the relatively simple nature of these pervasive algorithms could change the world or be used to manipulate it. How much what we like on social media, and the links we follow and the searches we perform can be so thoroughly mapped and totally influence our understanding of each other and of the world around us. How that information can be, and has been, used to measure and manipulate us by marketers, and politicians, and opportunists looking for power and wealth.
Not that it is all bad news, at least I don’t think so. I mean theoretically what we say and do on the internet, that is what we like, what we search, and what we share; all of these have the potential to change what we see or hear next, the quality and source of our information, AND to potentially influence the decisions of marketers, corporations, and politicians.
(Opportunists who are looking for power or wealth are not always so easily influenced, and historically have reacted badly to all but the fiercest attempts at correction)
THEN I ran into a YouTube playlist “The Alt-Right Playbook” by Innuendo Studios. Worth watching for it’s dissection of how white nationalists, neo-nazi’s, and others on the self-styled alt-right have used tech savvy and some times psychologically sophisticated ways to rebrand themselves and seek power since some time in the mid to late 1990’s. They do a very nice job of threading the needle between critique and attack as they examine their topic, and also put forward a few critiques of the Left and the Democrats. (My teams, in US politics in case you were wondering…) Watch all the episodes, they are quite the alarming education!
And then… then…. THEN… all that drama with Melania Trump and the Rose Garden Happened?!
I honestly try to not share memes on Facebook with as much abandon as I used too. Part of my own spiritual journey over the last year or two has including rethinking what I allow inside my head and what I send out into the world. (more on that in other posts) I’ve also been blessed to have a few of the things I’ve shared get fact checked by the automated system… which should serve any of us as a wake-up call to start using those critical thinking skills the Gods have blessed us with and the fairly basic research skills we should have learned in school!
Something seemed hinky about the first meme I saw about the issue, and I saved it and started doing some actual looking up news articles research. I found several facts on reliable and reasonably non-partisan sources, and tried to comment and share… but people were flipping. Their. Absolute. Shit!
Angry memes coming in from every corner, and all of them with the requisite angry comments. Multiple variations. ANY attempt at questions or links to factual news sources swept angrily aside!
So what ACTUALLY was happening was this…
(To a few of you reading this with whom I share social media contact… YES as a matter of fact I DID just Snopes some of your asses!)
But to hear the memes tell it Melania had grabbed a hatchet and a torch and personally tore down every historic planting from 1962, and cackling like Cruella DeVill before setting democracy ITSELF on fire!!!!!
Through most of the last week I’ve seen folks, many of them usually quite sensible human beings… (and a few of the Salty and Angry ones whom I love/appreciate but am kind of glad the algorithms don’t subject me to their shade and rage on the daily?) …well you’ve seen it. It’s not the first outrage, it’s not the first distraction… it seems like the last 4 years have been a flood of all to much trivial BS amidst some failures of public officials and policy.
What I’ve started asking is. Why is this suddenly taking over my feed?! Where are all these really poorly informed memes coming from? Who profits from the propagation of this idea in terms of marketing, propaganda, or mis-information in this particular moment? Does the timing coming at the tail of the Democratic National Convention and the beginnings of the Republican National Convention have anything to do with it?
Are there important issues that might be getting pushed out of peoples awareness by this sudden influx of rage and distraction? Who might benefit from distraction and division in this moment?
Well, anyway, that’s whats been going on with me… I am looking forward to watching footage on the 2020 Civil Rights March happening later today…
Oh, before I go, let me leave you with a bit of advice…
Pax / Geoffrey