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We All Got “Influenced”
& Our Agitation Is How
We now have a completely matured and wide-reaching digital information network, and it spreads influence. The spectrum is as wide as “I bought this brand of dog treat due to an adorable puppy Instagram” to “I have been completely subverted by a basket of Russian-sourced propaganda campaigns.” All taking place through the same networks.
We all get inundated by influence. I stayed off social media as a participant from summer 2013 - Feb 2022, to avoid being influenced, as well as for other reasons. One of those is I had already gone through several formal processes that made me suspect of the whole *follow, like, redistribute, and vent* feed engagement model.
Not only did research by 2013 show news feeds operated like slot machines (pull, interact, small “reward” on a variable schedule, pull again indefinitely), it also began to look like that “reward” was agitation. An FMRI study even seemed to show a decent “brain scan” analog (misnomer, but whatever) between slot machines and social media feeds.
We’re now entering a full decade of pretty good understanding of these type of mechanics, but it was only after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in 2017 that these ideas began to just enter the intelligentsia. Before that, as I knew as a vocal social media mechanics critic, the dominant intellectual position was “but Arab Spring, critics are just antisocial and trolls!” The agitation feed revenue model continued to grow nonetheless, finally under more external scrutiny, hitting a groundswell in 2019 in my view.
Amazingly, these late to the game critics have never seemed to understand that they, too, were compromised by the misinformation and agitation mechanics. Instead of reflecting on their own cognition in this way, they do the same as whoever they see their opposition as: dig in their heels, rely on rhetoric, mob and brigade, and rely on hostility and bias as amplifier.
“But my biases are ‘correct,’” they scream in rage into the void! Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. We need to work to locate and eliminate bias itself, not work tirelessly to advance our own without diligent introspection. Ganging up based on biases is just not a good look for social functioning, and many seemingly well-meaning people fall into this trap. They seem to believe they’re above the fray, presumably due to mysterious inherent virtue, without being able to point, formally, as to why they are less compromised by bias.
We’re in for years of struggling to use the internet to decondition people of heavily-reinforced biases and resentments now. I’ve waited years to be able to reengage in public internet communications under these new conditions. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to be tweaked past the level of reasonability, irregardless of what their pet issues are, and whether you and I are agreement or disagreement with them.
Post.news and every other interactive communication channel on the internet has its job cut out for it, because compromised people are very difficult to bring back into a constructive state.
▪️Jacob Kozinn, Editor