Algorithmic Cancel Culture

A social media acquaintance on scuttlebutt recently posted:

“I have a friend that has gone full #QAnon on #facebook. I haven’t visited my account in over a year but now find myself visiting daily for about a week to see what they have posted. I guess this is why Facebook doesn’t want to limit stuff like this. It gets clicks!

Truthfully I don’t even know what I am getting out of visiting it, but I continue to do it. Am I getting a laugh out of the absurdity? Am I enjoying getting angry at some of the ridiculousness? I don’t even know. It likely somehow is making my life worse.”

I could not let that one just sit there. I replied:

Before #social-media, most folks got opinions from TV news, books, papers, etc. and stuff like QAnon would be dropped like a hot potato by TV/News editors. So #mainstream-media filtered out (most of) the crap and insanity. (There were always fringe publishers, but they were fringe… that’s why the TV shows like X-Files and Fringe were so much fun.)

Not like that any more … bad memes can circulate like bad bacteria, and anyone can catch it. Social media allows direct person-to-person, brain-to-brain contact, allowing crazy thoughts to become highly infectious. I mean this in the literal sense, not the poetic sense … this is very much like a #neuroscience network #disease process, and needs to be treated as such.

A QAnon meme. Note the McDonalds Happy Meal™ in front of him, and Pence(?) as the Red Baron in the background.

I should mention that the “Great Firewall of China” is at least partly about this (to be very charitable …) – by controlling who can post what on social media, they control the infection rate of assorted memes. They can suppress both bad and good memes, so not only scams and frauds but also valid criticisms of the government. I’m told that the best way of criticizing the government is to quote #confucius – that’s so patriotic, the censors don’t dare suppress it. See: American Affairs  – Missionaries of Humanity: Popular Confucianism in China.

No, really, he was wise. You can quote me on that.

So, yeah, basically I’m saying that censorship might not be entirely a bad thing.

Addiction

He asked “I don’t even know what I am getting out of visiting it.” Well, I must explain:

  1. What you are getting out of it is a perverse pleasure of watching a train-wreck. Kind-of like surfing #covid statistics and hoping the numbers go up. It’s a certain set of neural feedback loops in the brain that trigger a pleasure response.
  2. facebook hires psychologists and #neuroscience people who know exactly how this works, and use them to perform research on increasing the addictiveness of facebook. You are literally being manipulated.
  3. facebook is not the only one. There are help-wanted job ads from assorted political-marketing manipulation outfits which explicitly ask for neuroscience/psychology experience, so that they can tweak their #algorithmic-propaganda algorithms. Somewhere I have a browser tab open with one of these ads in it. I meant to study it in greater detail, it was … interesting.
  4. So #phillip-morris the #cigarette company is aware of this, and they are looking to diversify out of nicotine. I was supposed to sign an NDA at the door but they screwed up and forgot (I wasn’t told about the NDA till weeks later, so not my fault) so I can tell you: they are keenly aware that they service an addiction mechanism in the brain, and they are dimly aware that there are other addiction circuits, including addiction to gambling, gaming, and addiction to facebook, and addiction to #qanon. They were there to brainstorm new neuro-products for the market. Both chemical-based and non-chemical-based. I talked about wireheading. So, yes, basically, I helped an evil company try to come up with new addictive products.

Addiction is such an ugly word. I try to explain this in another blog post: Endorphin Supply Chains. A better slogan might be “Better living through chemistry”, or “Enhancing your mood throughout the day”, or even “Tastes great, less filling!” – no one runs around accusing Starbucks of selling psychoactive drugs, but that is exactly what they do.

The tobacco industry will grow to 1 trillion dollars annually by 2027.

FWIW, the Scientific Revolution might be due to coffee. In the Middle Ages, there was a problem with water purity, and beer was clean and safe to drink. Unfortunately, it puts you in a stupor. When coffee arrived (the first coffee shops in London in the early 1600’s (?)) you could drink, and get smarter, not dumber.

Algorithmic Cancel Culture

So my buddy Rumblestilskin makes the brilliant observation:

“I doubt we will see the level of censorship in the West like we see in China anytime soon. I still think there will be some response (natural, grassroots?) that can combat these extreme memes in society.

I think Cancel Culture is in someways a response to these extreme memes and also a response to remove old ideas from society that are no longer useful. Cancel Culture may go too far sometimes, but I see it as an overactive immune response that can eventually be regulated to the correct level.”

Its hard to see how to improve on that comment. This will require deeper thought. Yes, censorship is a very blunt tool. Kind of like chemotherapy for cancer: its just a poison, and you hope the cancer gets more poisoned than the rest of the body. Of course, chemotherapy is administered by MD’s with some sense of ethics. Censorship … not so much. Overwhelmingly powerful state actors administer censorship. And here in the West, we sense the danger of this, we know this innately and call it “free speech”.

A primitive, imperfect and hateful regulator of mental disease.

Facebook has kicked me off of facebook. Why? They won’t say: maybe because I called out more than a few racists (aka “violated terms of service”).  Maybe because they cannot tolerate inflammatory, rabid posts like this one – they are more interested in giving QAnon and assorted deranged right-wingers a protected safe space to be nurtured and grow. A walled garden for trumptards and snowflakes and malevolent, twisted souls.  This makes facebook into an evil corporation: they intentionally breed toxic memes.  And they have state-actor type powers to kill and suppress ideas such as the ones that I spread.  And, to re-iterate: toxic, racist memes are literally harmful, they are very much like a bad disease, a mental disease, and it is literally communicable, catching.

If it were only as easy as it was for John Snow, when he broke cholera by putting a padlock on a water-well in London in 1854. We can’t remove racism from the brains of the infected, and we cannot depend on corporate censorship to “do the right thing”. But maybe we can do something useful with Cancel Culture.  This is an idea worth exploring.

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