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Are internet use patterns creating divisions in society?

Discussion in 'theory, philosophy & history' started by ska invita, Dec 12, 2017.

  1. ska invita

    ska invita back on the other side

    I'm undecided about this. To what extent is the echo chamber and groupthink forming process of self-choosing internet information, and particularly Facebook dynamics, a factor in creating a fragmented, entrenched and tribalised political-thought landscape.

    is it a problem? Maybe overall its good that people are engaging with political ideas more (are they?), and this is a natural part of that? And if it is a problem, what's the solution? And is there any way that the internet itself (or the way we use it) can help solve the problem?

    I had a bit of a wake up call to this recently when i saw a couple of different Facebook friends post on what i thought were complex, nuanced questions. They often take a very strong position, and what follows in likes and comments is endless backing up and reaffirming of what the OP had said.

    In the recent past these strong opinions would generate argument but now those who disagree have either unfriended or given up contesting, whilst those who agree pile on support and reinforcement. Feels cultish to me.
  2. Pickman's model

    Pickman's model funhouse thrills

    Short answer: yes
  3. J Ed

    J Ed I remember the future

    Yes. A lot of the current anti-social media sentiment seems intended to scapegoat all of our societal ills on these platforms, but I do think that social media is changing the way we live our lives and even think and not for the better. The fact that the only form of media, and increasingly entertainment, is bespoke to every individual is accelerating the atomisation societies which are already atomised by the economic system which we live under.

    I think that this is seen very clearly on the left. Groups which require the solidarity of as much of the majority of the population as possible, or even other oppressed groups, are turning on one another online and this is beginning to translate into real world violence. See the trans vs terf stuff. There are hundreds of thousands of people nominally on the left, perhaps more at this point, locked into a rhetoric which alienates the people who they need to win over in order to survive politically. 'Kill all men', 'die cis scum', 'all I want for Christmas is white genocide'. What healthy person is not repulsed by any of that?

    What I worry about in the long run is the number of young people having their formative years exposed to this stuff as their first experience of politics, with little other context to help them parse what they experience. There are far-right videos on youtube just an auto-play away from benign videos about playing computer games. To the extent to which they are exposed to the online 'left', many of these same young people are going to be exposed to people who are rhetorically rejecting them because they are white or male or whatever. Participating in these ritual denunciations is becoming increasingly common, perhaps necessary, part of liberal left discourse. A generation of young men who are in many cases suffering from economic precarity is being actively courted by the far-right, while many of those who are supposed to be advocating the politics of solidarity are actively rejecting them to build their own personal brands. I wonder how that is going to work out.

    I half suspect that these sort of debating and thinking patterns stem from the way in which social media gives us the hit of dopamine and instant feedback. You can see it on here, any sort of discussion or nuance on US politics beyond the first few elementary thoughts that a person could have (Trump is presently doing X, X is bad) is met with hostility and is often redirected immediately towards superficial discussion about immutable characteristics like race or gender which intellectually does not go far beyond what you would expect of a primary school playground. This all reminds me a bit of what Chomsky and Herman write in Manufacturing Consent where they state that the format of brevity of mainstream news media broadcasts favours ideas which are already considered to be common sense which in Western societies are often reactionary, what they were discussing there were news segments which could go on for ten minutes or more. How much worse is the effect when platforms and attention spans are limiting discourse to less than a minute? Well, I think we are seeing it.

    This whole article, about Silicon Valley workers who are worried about the effects of social media, is worth reading but this passage in particular stood out to me:

    'Our minds can be hijacked': the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia

    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
    Sunset Tree, MrSpikey, yield and 13 others like this.
  4. Athos

    Athos Well-Known Member

    Yes. Massively.
    bubblesmcgrath likes this.
  5. bubblesmcgrath

    bubblesmcgrath Well-Known Member

    Poi E likes this.
  6. ska invita

    ska invita back on the other side

    What I'm undecided about is if hypothetically Facebook and Twitter didnt exist but everything else was the same, how different would the situation be?
  7. J Ed

    J Ed I remember the future

    I do not know but I think that twitter, a platform used disproportionately by the well off and if not well off then downwardly mobile well connected, is the lubricant which has allowed the now all pervasive inquisitorial politics of identity to spread so rapidly across the body politic. Behaviours and vocabulary that would look foreign to anyone unfamiliar with student union student politics as late as the early 2010s are now familiar to anyone who is politically conscious in Western societies.
    Sunset Tree, Libertad and Poi E like this.
  8. J Ed

    J Ed I remember the future

    As an addendum to my post above, I also would like to point out that one of the reasons I suspect that social media is having such a destructive effect on the politics of solidarity is that the way in which it rationalises its users makes power appear less legible. Bezos, Soros and even the President of the US is just another individual twitter or Instagram or facebook or whatever account which can post, like and be liked. Just like you. It reduces everything to the level of the individual, removing the institutions and power and privilege from view. You can't see that Neera Tanden's wages are paid by despots in the United Arab Emirates, but you can see that she is defining herself over and over as a woman of colour who is under attack from White Socialist Men and that interpretation of power dynamics will be pointed out to you over and over by Neera Tanden.

    I was listening to a discussion with Irish writer Frankie Gaffney the other day in which he pointed out that a that a TD of the present government there was forced to resign because he called women 'bitches' on social media. This is the same government which is implementing austerity policies which are killing people. Individual etiquette violations of individuals are legibile, actual power and the way in which it is used is not.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  9. chilango

    chilango *shrugs*

  10. Mumbles274

    Mumbles274 running from law and the press and the parents

    I don't disagree but I was curious about how many people actually use Facebook. Its over a billion active users, so the majority of people still don't use it.

    Makes wonder then about how dominant social media users are in their place in society, how much so they really influence society in comparison to other types of media?

    Is the discussion more complex than just social media is bad for society? If so, what else is at play because those divides do seem very real?
  11. ska invita

    ska invita back on the other side

    The apparent levelling effect is something i feel good about overall. Decentralising power was part of the dream potential of the internet, and it is baring some fruits. Obviously this is a fairly surface challenge to power, but it is one nonetheless.
    The issue of reinforcing individualism over group solidarity is more complex.
  12. ska invita

    ska invita back on the other side

    Would be nice to see some stats. It is massive amongst millennials (over 90% in the US I think I once read?) and use fades out as you go up the age brackets. Would be nice to see some geographic spreads too.
  13. J Ed

    J Ed I remember the future

    Surely that's the problem though, the levelling effect is entirely apparent rather than real. The reality is that the internet and internet-based companies like Amazon, AirBNB and facebook are driving real world inequality. Facebook is structured more like a medieval kingdom, it makes even hierachical corporations seem positively egalitarian and collectivist.
  14. J Ed

    J Ed I remember the future

    The way in which facebook is structured is even more terrifying when you consider the fact that socially it has already been decided that they will behave as arbiters of correct and incorrect speech. 'We' might like that now while Trump is in power and the targets of censorship are (mostly) on the right, but what happens when it is a left-wing movement that threatens the material interests of the court of Zuckerberg? The potential for damage that Facebook could commit in a moment is breath-taking. A billion push-notifications at once, 'You have to kill the Tutsis, they're cockroaches.'
  15. Mumbles274

    Mumbles274 running from law and the press and the parents

    Im sure the stats are there.. A quick google brings up this

  16. TruXta

    TruXta tired

    A bit like a normal newspaper then, apart from the scale.

    Tbh I think that the power of social media is exaggerated. Twitter is half bots and the rest are wankers. Facebook OTOH has potential to be something more, but less due to the information it distributes than the way in which it structures media consumption.
  17. J Ed

    J Ed I remember the future

    Yes, apart from ownership the scale is mostly the difference but what a difference it is.
  18. TruXta

    TruXta tired

    Well, is it though? I don't think that we have clear evidence that the consumption of online media is doing much but accelerating existing trends. As mentioned, stuff like atomisation. The whole fake news etc is something that has bubbled up repeatedly over the last few centuries and it's not like newspapers wasn't in the business of creating bubbles and echo chambers back when they dominated.
  19. mwgdrwg

    mwgdrwg A powerhouse of a human and cannot be silenced

  20. Borp

    Borp remember

    Probably. Although I'm not sure how much the divisions were already there and are getting exposed or if it's getting worse. The other thing I'm not sure about is if it's actually having much effect. There's a lot of heat generated, particularly by the media, large and small, and by a small amount of people who like to argue online. But does it really have that much effect on the general public? Or is a lot of it bread and circuses.
    Put it this way, I could see Trump getting elected without the internet.
    ska invita likes this.
  21. TruXta

    TruXta tired

    That's him trying to big up Facebook. What is new about online life is as he says that hit you get from scrolling down another page, clicking the link, leaving the comment or posting that picture. But that's something that predates Facebook by decades.
  22. ska invita

    ska invita back on the other side

    i think there has been a positive horizontalising effect on some level. I don't have the terminology: there are no doubt all kinds of material and social capital realms of power where the status quo remains untouched, but there's also been a massive collapse in deference to ones superiors (over the last 50 years, but i think the internet has sped it up), and the principle that all voices deserve to be heard and have a degree of equality at hearing is a concept many young people feel innately, i get the impression. The thing is that spirit then clashes with a range of quite stubborn groupthinks.

    to paraphrase the great Laurie Penny i think the internet, despite its corporate take over, is still a little bit anarchist. There are some horizontalising positives out there in terms of social relations.

    ......what do you mean by medieval hierarchy re Facebook?
  23. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge This is definitely the darkest timeline

  24. TruXta

    TruXta tired

    Zuckerberg as God Emperor I'm guessing.
  25. Poi E

    Poi E Pessimism: a valuable protection against quackery.

    I'm not so sure I see this as anything more than the culmination of mass communication by commercial diktat. Undoubtedly, there are unique social and psychological aspects to social media, including rapid mobilisation of both state and private forces, but the channelling of content was always done for pecuniary gain, whether by Beaverbrook, Murdoch, Zuckerberg etc.
  26. TruXta

    TruXta tired

    In it he writes "Symbolism has always been part of politics. In the age of Trump, it is politics". Do you agree? I don't think I do at all, unless he's talking about the public spectacle of politics.
  27. J Ed

    J Ed I remember the future

    I think that he is talking about the public spectacle of politics, though I do not think that it is something that is limited to Trump though this might be a little more significant during his rule. Trump's rhetoric about arresting industrial decline and then voting through policies that accelerate it, for example, is very similar to candidate Obama in 2008 and 2012.
    danny la rouge and Poi E like this.
  28. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge This is definitely the darkest timeline

    In the context he's using it I think he means something like you say. But no, I don't think that "politics" only means that.

    But you could ask him. He's quite good at responding to questions on twitter.
  29. TruXta

    TruXta tired

    I avoid Twitter like the plague. :D
  30. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge This is definitely the darkest timeline

    I've abandoned it too.

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