This post from our course blog discusses a growing issue on social media platforms–The Algorithm. Clicks = Ad $$ and algorithms reflect that. The echo chamber, or filter bubble, or whatever you want to call it, that is born from aggressive algorithms can be dangerous. Once you engage with certain content, similar content starts popping up more, and users are recommended increasingly extreme content.
Safiya Noble’s “Google Search” interrogates the algorithmic practices of biasing information through search engine results, specifically concerning how Black women and girls are rendered online. Noble states an ugly truth: “…search engine technology replicates and instantiates derogatory notions.”
Search results for the word “feminist” in YouTube Search.
TikTok-ers have recently been posting about such a phenomenon on YouTube, particularly affecting teenage boys, known as the “Alt-Right Pipeline.”
PewDiePie, a gaming channel, has been known as an entry to falling down the alt-right rabbit hole. “Edgy humor” becomes increasingly blurred with hate speech, and compilations of SJW/Feminist/whoever gets destroyed/owned/whatever becomes all you see. These subcultures are fed by content creators that promote each other and their other social media platforms. In an extreme instance, a shooter live-streamed his attack on a mosque and told viewers, “Remember lads, subscribe to PewDiePie.” In the past 4 years, alt-right groups have grown emboldened by support from former President Donald Trump.
“The rise of the alt-right is both a continuation of a centuries-old dimension of racism in the U.S. and part of an emerging media ecosystem powered by algorithms.”
Going through an “Alt-right phase” isn’t quirky or relatable. Interacting with these ideologies has real-life dangerous consequences.
In an effort to engage users as much as possible, we are left with the consequences of algorithms gone wild. Companies need to be more transparent about their algorithms, and actively work to improve them to be anti-racist. Additionally, we need to examine more closely the relationship entertainment and education have online. As we click, and click, and click, companies lead us down extremist rabbit holes, and profit all the while.
20 million active Twitter accounts are fake. 20 million opinions, retweets and participants in political movements are fake. That is according to only one article, it seems likely that there are many more. According to the scholars Laquintano and Vee between ¼ and 1/3 of users in support of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton were fake bots as of 2016.
Example of an Obvios Bot Tweet
So, the simple conclusion is truth is doomed, right? How can the millions who receive their news and political opinions from the “unbiased and democratic” Twitter expect to make informed voting decisions if they are not actually engaging in civil discourse but capitalistic vote manipulation through conversation with Twitter bots?
Well, the truth is the cards have been stacked against voters. Capitalism has always had a heavy hand in politics. From the very beginning voting itself was restricted to those who had a large economic stake in America: white male landowners. As voting rights expanded more and more methods of influencing less affluent voters developed. The most obvious is advertisements from newspapers to radio ads or large donations to politicians’ campaigns.
Political Advertising During the Great Depression
Today, however, this manipulation is more subtle than ever. According to Laquintano and Vee many of the fake bots used to sway political opinions do so by being able to pass a Turing test or through their sheer numbers. In other words, bots can pass as real humans as determined by unknowing humans. If a bot is discoverable often there are so many of these bots their discovery is inconsequential to their movement.
90% of news outlets are owned by just six companies. If anyone remembers the play Newsies, it will simply take collusion between those six firms for major social justice issues or pieces of news to be ignored and unnoticed by Americans. Not to mention if these firms ever decided to cover an issue in a certain manner to sway votes, they could entirely sway the views of most Americans.
Joseph Pulitzer: Villian of Newsies Who Colluded With Other Newspapers to Stop the Newsies’ Strike
So, that about covers it. News outlets, social media, and even voting itself may be shot. Undoubtedly historians who will study political literature in the future will have an extremely difficult time deciding which news articles, Tweets and even social movements were entirely fashioned by capitalistic stakes in politics. So, yes, we are doomed, just as doomed as the political system always has been in America.
All this means for us is that the literature of past political movements was a bit more genuine. Today any political literature is less about fairness or equality than it is about greasing the pockets of whoever is interested in some manner we are yet to understand. So, how to stay sane? Unplug. I have never heard someone tell me reading political news has made them happy. In fact, I can say from experience only the opposite is true. As long as, America can make someone richer than us a buck, our system will work and we will have bread on the table.
Millet: Angelus– A Couple Prays in Thanksgiving for Their Day’s Work and Harvest Through the Angelus Prayer, Evocative of the American Ethos
In “How Automated Writing Systems Affect the Circulation of Political Information Online,” Timothy Laquintano and Annette Vee survey the online ecosystem of “fake news.” Writing in 2017, Laquintano and Vee concentrate on how fake news affected discourse surrounding the 2016 US presidential election. The authors’ concern for misinformation driven by automated systems of writing might have predicted the horrible events at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
After Trump supporters violently stormed the US capitol building on January 6, ten social media platforms temporarily or permanently banned accounts owned by the former president. Twitter responded to the permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump saying, “we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Since then, C.E.O.s of giant tech companies, like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, are facing pressure from lawmakers and the public about their responsibility in mediating misinformation.
Sundar Pichai (Alphabet/Google), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Jack Dorsey (Twitter) virtually testify to congress
Currently, these companies are shielded from liability of what’s posted on their platforms by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Section 230—which was enacted before the invention of Google—protects websites from being liable for content posted by third-party users.
According to Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Alphabet, “Without Section 230, platforms would either over-filter content or not be able to filter content at all.”
This contested editorial ecosystem is at the heart of Laquintano and Vee’s 2017 article. The authors observe a shift from human-editorial writing practices to software-based algorithms that influence how information circulates. This shift becomes problematic because social media and tech ~companies~ prioritize user engagement.
Laquintano and Vee explain that these companies profit from user engagement through algorithms that curate content to individual users in attempt to maximize their screen time.
Previously on this blog, Christa Teston observed the material conditions that enable the online spread of information. I add that algorithmic “filter bubbles” created by social media and tech companies are another factor threatening public well-being via misinformation online.
The January 6 insurrection was an overt example of the dangers of the current online writing ecology. (There are still less publicized victims of online misinformation). Accordingly, Section 230 has become a contentious piece of legislation in the US, but it seems like both sides of the aisle are open to discussing its revision—for different reasons.
If you’ve been closely following politics and reading the news over the past four years, you’ve probably at least heard of bots. But what exactly are they? And why do they matter?
A bot is an autonomous program on the internet or other network that can interact with systems and users. A bot can be programmed to do all sorts of things like write tweets about specific subjects on twitter at a specific time each day. A bot network or “botnet” is a group of these bots who work in concert with each other at the behest of whoever programmed them.
In summary, make sure you’re getting your info from real people! If you want to know more about this subject, Timothy Laquintano and Annette Vee have done an invaluable in-depth study that it would behoove all to read.
Just a friendly heads up for all you political junkies out there. Peace!
Simply said, there is a greater number of people whose different ideas are finally being shared. Additionally, by the 2016 election extremely well-read internet ecologies such as Twitter and social media have more or less been accepted as an official news source or valid manner of spreading information.
But any person can publish themselves on Twitter. So, anyone with an idea worth listening to can muster up the same audience and credibility as news reporters.
In other words, mainstream narratives about elections, political issues, ideals, and how to think etc., no longer are provided by the news outlets alone. The common man now has as much potential political sway as Alexander Hamilton. The only problem is millions of people are attempting to do this at once.
So, the end result is responses to issues now seem cluttered. Movements seem contradictory within themselves. In general, politics has lost its unity without the authority of the news to lead either side.
Perhaps this is a benefit. Movements like BLM and others that have been massively ignored for decades finally have gained attention basically thanks to social media and increased literacy of those writing and reading about it. Malcom X argued that the inability to write and read is what kept him in chains. https://antilogicalism.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/malcom-x.pdf
Regardless of whether this rapid transfer of ideas, politics and movements is positive or negative, the result is civil unrest.
Without the internet and the increase in reading and writing ability in the United States a majority of current political issues would likely have been ignored.
The end result is the ecology of political writing has changed entirely. No longer is political writing reserved for the news companies or the Ben Franklins of the world. But each person has the ability to capture attention like those giants of the past did. This means more ideas, more movements more politics in general.