Law in the Internet Society

Divergent Factual Realities: How the Parasite Drives Polarization

-- By AlexanderLandyshev - 13 Oct 2022

The use of misinformation as propaganda to achieve political influence, sway public opinion, or exercise control over populations is no unique artifact of the 21st century. Roman emperors printed exaltations of the state on currency, war propaganda flyers have rallied young people to enlist in wars both modern and ancient, and historical revisionism has continued to be employed by unsavory characters in the modern day, in efforts to legitimize both governments and individual figures with gruesome pasts. With the advent of the digital format, media misinformation has changed in volume and nature, but its true impacts can only be analyzed by incorporating the consequences of behavior modification induced by the parasite with the mind of God. The expropriation of human experience has drastically accelerated the inevitable impacts of already existing misinformation. The target at the end of such a trajectory does not appear encouraging; individuals are sequestered into self-made private realities containing only inoffensive thought, regardless of contradictory facts. However, it does appear that steps can be taken to counteract this seemingly untenable position we find ourselves entrenched in.

The Changing Landscape in Media Consumption

The consequences of surveillance capitalism are readily apparent when one looks at advertising markets. The monetization of the behavioral surplus has resulted in the growth of the digital advertising market to double that of all other forms of media combined, making it the dominant format in today's information marketplace. The increase in average news media consumption being primarily driven by online news viewing further reinforces the idea that the extraction of behavioral surplus has reached as far as journalistic reporting; a particularly disconcerting idea given the potential moral hazard associated.

Beyond the increased scale of the current media landscape, the parasite has influenced the substantive nature of the coverage as well. The first major historical shift in content occurred during the rise of cable news, with 24/7 reporting, increased conglomeration of media corporations, and a higher focus on advertising revenue, subjective opinion based reporting that used more partisan language became the norm. If Google is the Ford Motor Company of surveillance capitalism, cable news is Karl Benz, as it was the cable networks that first realized that pure human attention could translate to profit; a key inception that allows the Behavioral Value Reinvestment Cycle to function. However, with the modern shift to a digital news dominated landscape, the trend established during the shift to cable news has accelerated, both reflecting and propelling the polarization of the public. To answer why this shift in media has occurred however, one cannot simply gesture at the broader landscape of information, partisain coverage, and advertising revenue. One must address the underlying cause; the impact of the parasite's expropriation on human thought. Most concerning isn’t necessarily the growth of the advertising market, nor the incendiary tone incentivized by the parasite, but the intellectual degradation associated with the pursuit of "greater engagement".

Propagation by Preference

As digital media is selected for formats and content that best extracts the behavioral surplus, that media necessarily becomes less dense, shorter in form, and easier to produce. This media engagement becoming the dominant form of consumption in turn, diminishes the quality of thought. The human brain, an adaptive mechanism that evolves in response to its environment, once had to contend with difficult concepts found in reams of densely printed-on paper, especially in those pursuing higher education. Now, consumption of the most popular forms of media is diminishing the necessary attention span below what is required to engage with complex ideas. This isn’t to say that prior to the concatenation of media the average person was critically reading crime and punishment, rather, that the extraction of the behavioral surplus has become so ubiquitous that it has reached individuals within the most well established academic institutions, and that those that should have been engaging with texts with nuance, complexity, and a holistic appreciation of works are progressively abbreviating their reading to the detriment of all.

It is unsurprising that the behavior reinvestment cycle has succeeded in perpetuating its methods of experience extraction; it was designed to do so in the first place. What is informative is the qualities it has selected for in its process of behavioral modification; by taking the path of least resistance it has exacerbated qualities that were there from the beginning; the human brain itself is not optimized to be a truth-seeking apparatus, nor is it well adapted to function in a world in which instant gratification is immediately accessible. Perhaps by collectively recognizing our propensity to fall victim to media formats that exacerbates patterns of thought we would rather avoid, society can begin to change our engagement with digital media to instead propagate better engagement with media. Though such a change in public consciousness initially seems to be an extreme solution for the narrower problem of misinformation, it is likely a necessary precursor. Should this more fundamental change occur, it is hard to imagine how misinformation could remain an issue, as most misinformation capitalizes on its victims’ reluctance or refusal to thoroughly verify the facts contained therein; a population that engages critically with everything they consume would be effectively inoculated. Furthermore, supposing that the dementation of human thought continues, it is similarly difficult to believe that misinformation wouldn’t be a problem; interpersonal communication is only increasing in volume as the coil of the internet is wrapped around the globe. If an individual's tendencies to engage with shorter forms of media, more entertaining stories, and less complex ideas similarly continues, it is natural that tendencies to believe and spread untrue things will inevitably increase.


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r4 - 30 Jan 2024 - 22:09:22 - AlexanderLandyshev
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