The Problem is the Unmoderated Pace of Social Media

There are lots of problems with social media, blamed for so much fake news and the like, undermining everyday politics one way or another.

I’ve been warning about parts of the problem for almost two decades, as a memetic phenomenon, and in the last couple of years – aside from the explicitly political commentaries – even the execs and ex-execs of the various social media companies have been bemoaning the monster they had unwittingly unleashed – previously: Ripping Society Apart“.

[Post Note: See also Jaron Lanier picking up on this industry reaction – statistical addiction by stealth. There is no “evil genius” here, no “creator”. Lanier is right, but strangely Martin Bashir doesn’t get the point – focussing on technical differences between the products, not on the core problem – see additional post-notes below.]

As I say, there are many ways of slicing and dicing the problem, and things like the anonymity vs the humanity of our sources is one dimension, but I believe the one factor that is the multiplier of all others is its pace. The speed and ubiquity of communication. Rather than caring about the humanity of content there is a kind of instant gratification in the recognition and interaction.

This is a clear example of the former with a quote directly about the latter:

It bears repeating – it’s the dopamine buzz:

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we [at Facebook] have created are destroying how society works—no civil discourse, no coöperation, misinformation, mistruth”

As I keep saying, this loop is pure memetics. Stuff that is “catchy” spreads faster and wider than stuff that is “good”. This is why. Being exceptional / reactionary or ironic / funny at the expense of established wisdom becomes received wisdom because it’s less boring. Boring is the opposite of dopamine. Inhuman – uncivil – extremes always win.

In order to care about the humanity and reality of a communication beyond the buzz – it is necessary to pause, check and ignore if it looks inhuman, as I try to do with anything suspiciously anonymous or bot-like. But that pause is boring compared to the buzz available.

I’ve written on moderation before, and it sounds like restricting freedoms of communication, but we really have to dampen down the buzz, moderate the pace. Avoid short-termism writ large. You can say anything you like, so long as you   s  a  y   i  t    s  l  o  w  l  y   and in moderation.

Lots of other good stuff in the New Yorker piece on Zuckerberg.

[Post Note: Great piece also from Jamie Bartlett
– still not actually got his book, but must do –
here on his Medium blog:
The war between technology & democracy
.]

[And two more post notes re Jamie: Let’s not ban anonymity. And let’s recognise the disaster of automating the “objective” content.]

[The “addiction” to easy objectivity was an original driver here. Social and other electronic media simply reinforce and accelerate the process. Janier too, picks up on the fact that the novelty is not the algorithms themselves, but the rapid reinforcement. Frankie Boyle gets the addiction aspect here in 2015, and I include my original 2006 reference.]


Also published on Medium.

6 thoughts on “The Problem is the Unmoderated Pace of Social Media”

  1. I’m responding immediately in true social media style . It may help me carry my point.

    Memes , like their biological counterparts , genes, are still subject to natural selection of the fittest not of the most attractive.

    Unbridled criticism is freely available on the web. Falsification is ever at hand . We contrarians are here to contest the bullshit.

    The dopamine buzz has been sought for centuries . Seen from another perspective it’s aesthetic discrimination.

    Again in true internet fashion I’ll try and add depth by cutting and pasting a comment I’d just made elsewhere , on another topic.

    “Beauty in aphorisms , as in mathematical proofs , is found in those which combine simplicity , inevitability and surprise. Its true of jokes and poems too , but a mathematician , Hilbert I think , coined the expression.”

    I’m also reminded of Charlie Mingus obsession with spontaneous responses in jazz improvisation .

    There’s something of great value in that mucky bathwater , don’t be in too much of a hurry to discard it. Our minds are filters after all.

    Thanks for the link to the New Yorker piece.

  2. I wonder what the MOQ has to say about this..

    Dopamine is biological right?

    So (as with all our cultural issues) it’s a moral conflict of prioritizing the biological benefit of the dopamine hit over the cultural value of what the social media is meant to build on.

    Do cultural values have to be ‘boring’? I’m not so sure. I can think of many cultural things that are actually very interesting. So I think maybe the real problem here is the exclusive focus on the biological good and losing sight of the real value that Facebook should be focused on.

    As always – this sort of clarity can only be found using the levels of the MOQ.

  3. Hi Bruce (and David) I think you miss my overall point – I’m not dismissing social-media, I use it a lot, it’s immensely powerful. I am simply pointing out a problem with usage, that can (needs to) be improved.

    Memetic fitness vs attraction? By definition, attraction is the main fitness of a meme. It fits best with what attracts people to it most immediately.

    And sure, our minds are filters (and communicators of the filtration) – that’s the point.
    Learning behaviours that filter “better” is what I’m about.

    As David H notes, these filters (information processors generally) are part biological and part socio-cultural. (Cultural is NOT boring David – it’s vital – I was making that point ironically, it only “seems” boring compared to the immediate “hit”.)

    All I am drawing attention to here is that “speed” – reflective evaluation takes more time than the more immediate dopamine hit. The speed skews to processing towards the biological. (Getting very close to Hahneman’s “fast and slow” here.)

  4. All good points Ian . But I think you still miss the very real added value which comes from spontaneous responses.

    This is a crucial component in Jazz , in which immediate unconsidered contributions , to a dialogue between individuals , create artefacts of beauty and value.

    This piece addresses the quality that comes from spontaneous co-creation.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/science/06wsfmusic.html

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