(Anti-)Social Media Inciting Hatred

“… we definitely help divide people”

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO

It is impossible to understand the current state of social polarization while ignoring the Internet, and its especially toxic part, which should be called anti-social media (“ASM”).  ASM includes Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Reddit.  ASM distorts our social and political communications in many ways.  The mechanics of ASM generate misunderstanding, hatred, and polarization.  ASM leaders multiply this damage by denying that and falsely pointing fingers at Trump and Trump supporters. 

Lack of Empathy Aggravated by Anonymity

ASM is not and has never been social.  The internet is perfect for storing and transmitting information, but it does not transfer the most important parts of real human interactions: empathy, sympathy, and other feelings that we have for each other, even when we disagree. 

In real life, most of our interactions are with people whom we know and with whom we have relationships: family, friends, romantic interests, co-workers, or neighbors.  Most of our interactions on ASM are with unrelated individuals whom we don’t personally know and who could be thousands of miles away. 

Added to this is the anonymity, which brings out the worst in humans.

Most of us have learned to be nice to the people around us, in real life.  We like them or we are concerned about our relationships with them.  We are also apprehensive about the negative consequences of our rude behavior, including possibilities like being fired or even punched in the face.  We are also accustomed to such considerate treatment from others. 

But nothing prevents users from insulting others on ASM – there are no feelings, no relationships, and no accountability.  Online, many people unlearn good manners and freely insult others at any opportunity.  Even more alarming, this new habit transfers to real life.

Adverse Selection

The ASM flaws described above are well-known.  The adverse selection of contacts on ASM is less obvious.  It is also less felt by ordinary users and more felt by Hollywood celebrities, liberal journos, multimillionaires, and other VIPs.

In real life, most of us select those with whom we interact.  When we must interact with unpleasant people, negative feelings are typically mutual and people who dislike each other usually avoid each other.  Thus, in real life, most of us rarely experience serious insults

On Twitter, a user is exposed to hundreds of millions of other users (and bots).  Some of them are psychos.  Obviously, ASM disproportionately attracts individuals with whom nobody wants to deal with in real life.  Some users are racists, misandrists, misogynists etc.  Some are normal people who enjoy trolling others on ASM.  One troll can harass hundreds of people every day.  When he is banned, he simply creates a new account.  A troll can create a false identity of any race, religion, gender, and political affiliation, and harass others in ways that are taboo in real life. 

Notice that one troll can cause a chain reaction.  For example, some individuals offended by racist slurs might respond in kind, offending others, and so on.  Some public figures harass others under guise of replying to trolls.

Many VIPs who are used to receiving admiration from real life fans or sycophants become targets on ASM.  Because envy motivates anger, VIPs attract trolls.  One can encounter more harassment online in an hour than offline in a year.  Such an online “experience” has led many VIPs to look for the its causes outside of ASM, and Trump was the obvious fall guy.  That might explain the militancy of lib jornos, Hollywood celebrities, Silicon Valley multi-millionaires etc.

By April 2016, Trump became the leading Republican presidential candidate, and Bernie proved himself a tough competitor to Hillary.  The 2016 Democratic campaigning, based on identity politics and an energized fringe, was probably the main offline factor in arousing hate online.  But Twitter radically changed its feed algorithm in February-March 2016, just in time for that.  Instead of reverse chronological ordering, it started placing on top of the feed tweets it deemed most important.  The new algorithm increased users’ engagement and anger.

 “Gamergate” demonstrates that ASM creates trolls.  The woman at the center of the controversy was harassed online and received threats of rape.  The police investigated the threats and found the perpetrators.  They were 13-years old.  ASM and MSM are happy with the online hatred as long as it increases “engagement” and they are able to attribute it to Trump and Trump supporters. 

Deceive We Much

The ASM platforms were protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  Hate speech (as well as fake identities, clickbait, incitement etc.) was generally understood as an inevitable evil, inseparable from open platforms.  But after the 2016 elections, ASM looked for ways to pacify the Democrat-MSM complex, to accommodate the demands of the EU, and to increase revenues with the existing business model.  The compromise to create the myth that it is not them, but Trump Deplorables who are at fault.  Since then, ASM has been responding to criticism by denigrating (“fact checking”), harassing, and deplatforming conservatives.

The worst part: despite their well-known flaws, the ASM platforms deceived many people into believing that they provide online public space comparable to real life public venues.  “People see Twitter as a public square, and therefore they have expectations that they would have of a public square.  Washington Square Park, for instance” – Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey said in an interview with Rolling Stone in January.  The ASM corporations wrote in their terms of services and repeated through the MSM that hate speech and other bad things are prohibited on their platforms.  They reinforced that impression by deplatforming high profile conservatives and Trump supporters for minor or non-existent infractions. 

However, the only effort that ASM corporations made was to deceive the public.  Contrary to their ToS and PR, the top ASM platforms:

-                accept everybody from all over the globe, including representatives of foreign governments and terrorist organizations;

-                allow or even encourage bots and malware;

-                don’t verify identities behind the accounts;

-                don’t prevent banned users from creating new accounts;

-                make no effort to ensure that the content and conduct is in accordance with what is promised in the ToS, but use those terms and policies as an excuse to silence Trump supporters and opponents of strong leftist agendas.

Notice how socially destructive real ASM policies are.  Any public figure who respectfully and honestly communicates about matters of public importance with his or her audience can be punished or banned from his platform at any time.  But trolls, criminals, and foreign operatives can do whatever they want on ASM.  In the worst-case scenario, their accounts would be disabled, and they would simply create new accounts.

Sowing Polarization and Inflaming Conflicts

And it is time to pay attention to ASM’s role in massacres, like the horrors that happened in El Paso and Dayton.  The law protects ASM from liability for the content posted by third parties, but not for deception in advertising.  They have been marketing their platforms to us by promising free speech, civil debate, and trust, but they currently provide none of these.  ASM squat on the word media, but are interactive computer services, as defined in 47 U.S.  Code §230.  ASM is a technical service, not real media or press, which are protected by the First Amendment.  §230 clearly states that interactive computer service providers are not publishers or speakers (regarding the 3rd party content).

Twitter artificially increases circulation of the most divisive and polarizing topics by making them Trending.  It directly benefits from inflaming conflicts through increased user engagement, translating into higher ad revenues.  It indirectly benefits from such conduct because lib jornos, MSM, and other agitators enjoy such conflicts and promote Twitter to further the contention. 

Twitter was praised for fueling the Ferguson riots in 2014.  Facebook apparently so envied Twitter that it hired left leaning reporters to manipulate its own Trending section.  Over the last 3-4 years, ASM has developed into a malignant tumor.  It’s time for the country’s immune system to fight back.

Graphic credit: Courtesy Graphic

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