Social Network Crisis Reading List

This is a list of interesting reads dealing with network theory, social media, and political crises. Stuff like algorithmic propaganda, memetics and the epidemiology of memes, as inflamed by social media. This provides footnotes and references for claims that I make in the other blog posts.

This is a complement to the Capitalism Reading List (political/economic network theory – how epidemics of memes affect the politics and economics) and the Neurochemistry and Bio Networks Reading List (network theory at the cellular and individual brain level.  Nicotine and caffeine are neurotransmitters powered by capitalism). There’s some duplication across these lists.

  • Why some biologists and ecologists think social media is a risk to humanity – Vox – 30 June 2021. An interview with two of the 17 authors sounding an alarm about the memetic crisis in social media. The snark in me wants to say “better late than never”, but the academic weight of the disciplines of epidemiology and ecology are important. In particular ecology: this is a widely (and wildly) misunderstood science. People think its about birds and bugs in forests. It’s not: its about complex systems and complex networks, with stuff like differential equations thrown in for good measure. The actual paper is here, in PNAS: Stewardship of global collective behavior, Joseph B. Bak-Coleman et al. PNAS July 6, 2021 118 (27) e2025764118;
  • Project Cassandra – the Guardian – 26 June 2021. This describes a multi-year project, the goal of which is to predict future wars based on literary analysis. How? Quote: “When Azerbaijan gave anti-Armenian books to Georgian libraries, the project predicted conflict. A year later, war broke out.” This might sound like old-fashioned  propaganda. What makes it literary is that the authors are not explicitly propagandists; rather, they are describing and mirror society in novels and plays. Authors who are showered with literary awards and prizes. And who touch a nerve: books that are banned, authors who are jailed or forced to flee their country. For, literature holds a mirror up to society. Lead researchers: Jürgen Wertheimer, Isabelle Holz, Florian Rogge (literary critique) Julian Schlicht (number crunching).
  • Aljosa Puzar,  (2021). Towards a critical cultural epidemiology. Academia Letters, Article 570.  This article is ostensibly about the sociology of pandemics. Careful reading shows that it is a far more careful study of the topics I try to broach here. For example: the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 is presented as a coupling of primal fear, neurochemically and socially expressed, to neoliberal competitiveness, capitalist supply chains and “neuro-politics”.
  • The Consilience Project – Making better sense of the world. – by Daniel Schmachtenberger – 27 February 2021. There’s been a “War on Sensemaking” – we’ve be subjected to a disinformation campaign coming from all quarters. This project notes that “The world faces unprecedented catastrophic risks across the spectrum of finance, governments, ecological health, and global stability. To respond appropriately, leaders and citizens need increased capacities to make sense of what is happening in the world and to communicate and coordinate effectively.” and that “The goal [of this project] is to restore the health of our information commons by helping educate people on how to improve their information processing so they can better detect media bias and disinformation while becoming more capable sense-makers and citizens.” My knee-jerk reaction is that this is a bit naive, given that the majority of the GOP is delusional and is politically doubling down on the insanity.  But hey, someones got to do it, so it is a commendable effort.
  • Explaining the Trump Movement Through the Lens of the Social Organism – by Fergus Thomas – Irban Group – 19 Dec 2016.
    Marvelous article reviewing the basics of memes and network theory. Recall how I talked about the collapse of sand piles, cellular death, and supply-chain contagion as explainable by network theory? Well, the same applies to the spread of memes on social media, and the incredibly invasive power of memes into the thought-patterns of humans.  The article on “Trump Psychosis” makes it sound like its all about psychology – what individuals think (in a group setting). The article on “Russian Disinformacya” makes it sound like its just social, informational manipulation.  This article  bridges over into the network theory — its the network that matters! The things that are bouncing around between brains — the messages and the memes — are one thing, but the network topology — which brains are talking to which ones, is really the key.
  • Part 1: The Next Great Online Community – Jamil Abreu – Feb 7, 2020. In case you think that “social media” means facebook, youtube, twitter, well … uh no. There’s a bit more to it than that, as there is both a history of it, and a theory of software: when you design software to run a social media site, you are also (unintentionally?) designing the rules by which that community plays. And these rules have all sorts of unforeseen consequences. Building online communities is not a simple game.
  • The Wisdom and/or Madness of Crowds – Nicky Case. So in case you’re not following what I mean by “network theory”, and how that applies to politics, economics and psychology, the above is a simple, fun game that explores the mathematics (gasp!) of network theory. Its a game. you can play it in your web browser. Its short – maybe 20 minutes – its fun! Do it now!
  • Meaningness – David Chapman -2010-2021. This is a vast collection of thoughts on social politics, viewed from the lens of “meaning” – as in, deep, personal inner thoughts, the things one thinks when pursuing the “meaning of life”. The core thesis is that we’ve built society and culture on shared belief systems of what is right, and what is wrong. Shared beliefs about what makes nations great, and what makes life worth living: the stuff of political philosophy as well as religious feelings (beliefs). As it happens, the foundations appear to have been infirm. It’s best to start reading these tracts in the middle. My favorite is a portrait of the early 20th century. I like it because I understand this period well. I spent years studying Art History in school. Art History? Whaat? Hey, check it:   “Systems of meaning all in flames” explains. The bit about the culture wars of the 1980’s Reagan era is also very worthwhile.

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