[Marxism] Fwd: It's the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech | WIRED

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jan 17 05:48:57 MST 2018

 From a moderator of the mailing list that preceded Marxmail:

HERE’S HOW THIS golden age of speech actually works: In the 21st 
century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer 
limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure. 
It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute 
attention. And right now, the flow of the world’s attention is 
structured, to a vast and overwhelming degree, by just a few digital 
platforms: Facebook, Google (which owns YouTube), and, to a lesser 
extent, Twitter.

These companies—which love to hold themselves up as monuments of free 
expression—have attained a scale unlike anything the world has ever 
seen; they’ve come to dominate media distribution, and they increasingly 
stand in for the public sphere itself. But at their core, their business 
is mundane: They’re ad brokers. To virtually anyone who wants to pay 
them, they sell the capacity to precisely target our eyeballs. They use 
massive surveillance of our behavior, online and off, to generate 
increasingly accurate, automated predictions of what advertisements we 
are most susceptible to and what content will keep us clicking, tapping, 
and scrolling down a bottomless feed.

So what does this algorithmic public sphere tend to feed us? In tech 
parlance, Facebook and YouTube are “optimized for engagement,” which 
their defenders will tell you means that they’re just giving us what we 
want. But there’s nothing natural or inevitable about the specific ways 
that Facebook and YouTube corral our attention. The patterns, by now, 
are well known. As Buzzfeed famously reported in November 2016, “top 
fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook 
than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.”

Humans are a social species, equipped with few defenses against the 
natural world beyond our ability to acquire knowledge and stay in groups 
that work together. We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of 
novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage 
toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community 
what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges 
us on them—in what the company’s first president, Sean Parker, recently 
called “a social-­validation feedback loop.”

Sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your lying eyes.

There are, moreover, no nutritional labels in this cafeteria. For 
Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, all speech—whether it’s a breaking news 
story, a saccharine animal video, an anti-Semitic meme, or a clever 
advertisement for razors—is but “content,” each post just another slice 
of pie on the carousel. A personal post looks almost the same as an ad, 
which looks very similar to a New York Times article, which has much the 
same visual feel as a fake newspaper created in an afternoon.

What’s more, all this online speech is no longer public in any 
traditional sense. Sure, Facebook and Twitter sometimes feel like places 
where masses of people experience things together simultaneously. But in 
reality, posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen by 
screen. Today’s phantom public sphere has been fragmented and submerged 
into billions of individual capillaries. Yes, mass discourse has become 
far easier for everyone to participate in—but it has simultaneously 
become a set of private conversations happening behind your back. Behind 
everyone’s backs.


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