danah boyd comments on the methods of modern media manipulators

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

danah boyd is always good and this is one of her best:

Accusations of anti-conservative bias are not evaluated through evidence because reality doesn’t matter to them. This is what makes this stunt so effective. News organizations and tech companies have no way to “prove” their innocence. What makes conspiratorial messages work is how they pervert evidence. The simplest technique is to conflate correlation and causation. Conspiracy makers point to the data that suggests that both journalists and Silicon Valley engineers are more likely to vote for candidates from the Democratic party. Or that they have higher levels of education than the average American and are more likely to live in Blue states.

As my colleague Francesca Tripodi points out, accusing tech of anti-conservative bias also leverages and reinforces a misunderstanding of how search engines and social media work. As she notes, “People believe Google is weighing facts instead of rank-ordering results that match the entered keywords.” When the goal is to drive a wedge among the public, it’s not hard to encourage people to see bias.

Contemporary extremism is designed to increase polarization. One tactic is to twist frames. For example, “ideological diversity” has been deployed to suggest that people who hold conservative viewpoints experience a loss of opportunity similar to those who have faced systemic racism and sexism. But this isn’t about the history of economic inequality in the US. It’s a dogwhistle. It’s about using nominal conservatism as a cloak to promote toxic masculinity and white supremacy. It’s about extremists using conservatives. And it’s about intentionally twisting historical pressure to diversify newsrooms and Silicon Valley to open the Overton Window. Fundamentally, it’s a technique to grab power by gaslighting the public and making reality seem fuzzy.

…Google and Bing rely heavily on legitimate news content to cover up data voids about breaking topics. But YouTube is a disaster. First, there’s a lot less content on YouTube, which means that problematic content surfaces to the top faster. Second, YouTube isn’t simply a search engine; it’s also a recommendation engine that encourages people to view more videos and go on a journey. This is great for music discovery, but not so great when manipulators game the recommendation system to create pathways to extremist content. Third, while newsrooms and text creators have gotten smart about SEO on Google and Bing, they’re weak with YouTube, even though it’s the primary search engine for the under-25s.

…Most social media users who are given Terms of Service violation warnings quickly change their behavior. This is not the case for media manipulators. They know the rules, intend to flaunt them, and actively dare platforms to mess with them. They believe that being digitally crucified is to their cause’s long-term advantage, especially if media outlets will cover their digital execution. So they push and they push, they hurt other people and refuse to respond appropriately to restrictions. They bend the rules, leverage irony to their advantage, and engage in rhetorical games so that it’s hard to pin them to the wall. They know what they’re doing.

…While he attended all of the sessions of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington did not participate in any of the debates that took place. Except one. After an early draft of the Constitution suggested that members of the House of Representatives should each represent 40,000 people, he argued that the number should be reduced to 30,000. He knew that the delicate American democracy depended on people knowing their representatives and felt that any number greater than 30,000 would create an elite governance class and trigger distrust in the public. Today, each member of the House represents more than 700,000 people. And most Americans do not trust our federal government.

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