Hate is profitable.
Yes, terrorists are primarily responsible for their acts. But terrorists are created, not born. Terrorists get their information, find their tribes, and spread their messages the same ways you and I do. And they are getting a lot of help.
Massive platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube “optimize for engagement,” and make automatic, algorithmic suggestions for every bit of content or action. From “you might also like” to “recommended just for you” to prioritizing things — anything — that will get you to click, comment, or share.
How pervasive is this engagement-at-any-cost mindset?
Every user of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram wants their news feed shown in plain, chronological order. It’s a top, if not the top, feature request. It’s not controversial. It is trivially, stupidly, exasperatingly easy to implement… because that’s how these platforms all worked at first.
So why do you suppose they won’t do it? Why is the default, “Top Posts,” or “Top Tweets”? Why do they hide the settings to turn this off, if they let you turn it off at all? (In fact, Twitter trumpeted the introduction of this feature, without mentioning that the new “sparkle button” removed the previous ability to make the switch permanent.) Is it because they know what you like, can find it faster, and just want to make you happy?
They know what will catch your attention. They know what will get you “engaged.” They know what will be more likely to lead you deeper into a rabbit hole, and what will make it harder to climb back out. Is it a literal, iron-clad trap? No. But the slippery, spiral path that leads people to the darkest corners of the internet is not an accident.
Sure, cat photos are compelling. But there’s nothing like a good knock-down, drag-out clash among friends to get those fingers tapping.
Hate is profitable. Conflict is profitable. Schadenfreude and shame are profitable. While we smugly point fingers, tsk-tsk, and think we’re being clever as we strategically dole out likes and shares, we forget that we are all just gruel-fed hamsters running on wheels deep inside giant, hyper-engineered, artificially intelligent, fully gamified, corporate-controlled virtual worlds that we absurdly think belong to us.
They won’t fix it. It’s working just fine for them. So what can we do?
We can get off the hamster wheel, for starters. It won’t take long for the lights to go out. And then, if we must, we can build better ones.
This piece is excerpted from a post on Hawaii Blog. Illustration by JBCharis for “Know Your Hate Groups” via The Nib.
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