23 April 2017

Why has outrage come to dominate platforms like Twitter?

This question was posted on twitter by Sarah Britten Pillay. I shall try to answer that here, or at least address some of the topics surrounding this notion.

What makes a platform like Twitter more outrageous than the next?

A brief summary of my thoughts on the topic:
  1. It would be interesting to contrive some outrage meter that could detect outrage levels in a piece of text.
  2. Plenty if not most of social media outrage is manufactured as a distraction.
  3. Outrage that isn't manufactured can be analysed by means of kin selection concepts from biology.
  4. If you aren't entirely sold on the sociobiology idea, then the balance of risk and incentive from game theory can also shed some light on the rationale behind social media outrage.

Outrage levels are too damn high

I do agree that social media platforms tend to be filled with more outrage than others, but as far as I know there is no means of detecting or measuring outrage. The need exists for some outrage quotient or some method of classifying platforms into categories according to their outrage content.

Intuitively, a platform like Twitter is more prone to outrage than a platform like Facebook, where your more close friends and family members are watching you in some perverse panopticon.


It is also intuitively more filled with outrage than Linked-In, because some employers might be loathe to hire people with free-flowing outrage. They much prefer hiring people with pent-up rage, those ticking time-bombs of the workplace, and people who confuse Linked-In for a dating platform.

If the assertion is that outrage dominates a platform, then there needs to be a gauge akin to the signal-to-noise ratio. Except here it would be a signal to outrage ratio, where outrage and signal are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but for the most part I think it's safe to regard outrage as just noise. White noise, even. In this manner, one could establish not only whether one platform is more outrageous than the next, but also whether outrage dominates a given platform.

I'm currently not drunk enough to math yet. Using a different approach, some chatbots can copy emotion. This approach can already help to classify a given piece of text in terms of emotional content, and by extension detect the presence of outrage. Perhaps even the level, then, when the amount of words associated with outrage as a ratio to neutral words or words related to the key concepts are considered. For the topic of this discussion, let's just assume that when it comes to outrage, Twitter has more of it than Facebook, and more of it than corporeal platforms like a coffee shop meeting or a braai gathering.

Plenty of outrage is manufactured - Fauxtrage, if you will

The recent Bell Pottinger white monopoly capital saga illustrates how this outrage is frequently intentionally engineered as bread and circuses distraction. The fact that it didn't work to add fuel to the fire of South Africa's perceived strained race relations, shows that outrage is frequently more bark than bite.

White monopoly capital. More real than the manufactured outrage campaign.
 

It also suggests that being numerate can help one to discern signal from noise, even in this medium. But being numerate is overkill. Purely sharpening critical thinking skills, with the aid of FiLCHeRS or PEARL, is sufficient to see when people are for example playing identity politics, or when there really is smoke to the fire. This counts especially for people like me who went to a tertiary institute suffering from the delusion that it will teach one critical thinking. It will not, unless you specifically take a course on critical thinking. It is far more likely to infect your mind with a particular ideology, like science must fall's peculiar notion of decolonising education. In other words, it doesn't teach you how to think, it rather teaches you what to think.

Bearing this in mind, plenty of the outrage on social media platforms can safely be assumed to be pure fabrication. As the public, we should hold the media to account, but it's more important to foster critical thinking skills so that inappropriate, context-free outrage has no fertile ground on which to fall.

What about real outrage?

No doubt there are some angry sociopaths out there hitching a ride next to the information superhighway. Why is this? Assuming that Facebook as a more personal and intimate platform contains less outrage than Twitter, and also less outrage than Linked-In, it points to two aspects:
  1. A more intimate platform has less outrage.
  2. A platform where outrage counts as a liability has less outrage.
This pattern seems to fit the perceived outrage of social media platforms in general. It can be analysed, though not sufficiently explained, by kin selection and Game Theory.

Hamilton's Rule: How kin selection emboldens outrage



Kin selection is the notion that traits detrimental to individuals in a given population would become more widespread if these traits increase the odds of survival for the entire population. In more crude terms, individuals would do silly things that prevent them from getting laid, if it means that their peers enjoy an increase in the odds of getting laid. If their shenanigans does work to get their peers laid, then this kind of savage behaviour can be expected to become more widely adopted. Enter the wingman.



Q: Mr Haldane, would you give your life to save your dying brother?
A: No, but I would give my life to save two brothers, or eight cousins.

What does this have to do with outrage? Of course genes don't get transferred in the biological sense here, but memes do spread in an analogous way. Certain groups treat activism as a commodity by means of the commodification of activism, whereby you virtue signal your sacrosanct virtues uncritically in order to be part of an in-group, and in order to cast aspersions with impunity onto any out-group that dares question these values. Try to tell someone that you're not a feminist, for example. Automatically, it means that you oppose gender equality. And if you are comfortable with the feminist religion, chances are someone has called you a feminazi.

By Todd Huffman from Phoenix, AZ - Lattice, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3365538
I like bees! Bee behaviour can be explained by kin selection.

As an internet troll on a platform where you have fewer close connections in your network, you then have incentive to be particularly incensed and make yourself unattractive to potential mates. This is purely because it is less risky to do so than on a platform where you have a more close-knit network.

Can Game Theory explain why someone would have a Britney Spears-level outrage meltdown on social media?

Game theory is the practice of analysing actions in terms of risk and reward pay-offs. The particular game form relevant here is the Volunteer's Dilemma. Similar to the kin selection notion, the Volunteer's Dilemma demands a sacrifice from one member of the group, which would be detrimental to that member, but which would gain a higher reward for the rest of the group.

It's completely rational not to be the poor sod handling the grenade, from an individual perspective. I deduce from this that on social media dominated by outrage, outrage must have a larger reward pay-off than it has risk. This despite the fact that knee-jerk outrage mongering could have one losing your job embarrassingly. 

Some groups attach value to anti-social displays. On a good day, this results in a kind of introspection and constructive criticism. On a bad day, these anti-social displays just make those displaying them look like troglodytes.

Conclusion

While there is no gauge of outrage as yet, it does appear that some social media platforms are more dominated by outrage than others. It is also important to reckon the manufactured, fake outrage out there and then perhaps stop taking outrage on social media seriously. It's not easy to discern between noise, outrage, real outrage, fake outrage, pure signal, and signal that is just abrasive or tactless.

Outrage itself is not necessarily a problem, since the platforms offer tools to deal with outrage. Some downsides of these tools are that they could lead to echo chambers and the loss of online anonymity. While we should hold the media to their own standards and point out their hypocrisy where we see it, the rest of us also have responsibility to sharpen our critical thinking skills.

By utilising kin selection concepts from biology and some risk-reward pay-off concepts from game theory, we can rationalise why people would seemingly go out of their way to huff and puff like firebrand revolutionaries on some social media platforms, while being meek and mild on other formats.

20 April 2017

Shelley Garland: a case study of post truth media

This past week saw a prank of Sokal Affair proportions, only within the context of our own ailing media. You can read the entire Shelly Garland saga here, and I would be completely over it by now if it weren't for the fact that the Huffington Post tried to wiggle their way out of this one by means of Spanish Inquisition.



Background to the Shelly Garland saga

A blogger passed around some bait in order to expose the hypocrisy of those custodians of ethical journalism who had been warning us about fake news, post truth media, alternative facts and a whole new basket of deplorables. It was a meticulously crafted prank.

To their credit, the Daily Maverick saw the Shelly Garland bait for the tripe that it is, and said take this cup away from me. Which is to say they had an editor who wasn't asleep at the wheel and just performed some rudimentary editing. Also known as doing your job.

The local chapter of the Huffington Post fell for the prank hook, line and sinker. Which shouldn't surprise anyone because it's just an agitprop channel for sanctimonious douche-bags. If it bends over and performs fellatio on my sensibilities, I shall just publish it. Screw ethics, screw fact checking, screw the public and their trust. It sounds good, it paraphrases canon. Publish!

What is the thanks Shelly Garland got for exposing evil hypocrites who prey on public trust?

What was their reaction after having been exposed for enabling the exact same fundamentally unethical journalists that they were claiming to combat?

They tracked down the author at their place of work, marched in there with a paparazzi army, hauled him over a rack, extracted a confession out of him, and returned with all but his scalp and his testicles. The poor bastard had to resign in embarrassment, and all this for having the gall to try out independent thought for size.

Blaming the victim, but when we do it, it's for a good cause

Victim blaming is when one holds the victim of a wrongful act responsible for that wrongful act.

This should sound familiar.

That is per definition what has happened here. The Huffington Post publishes a helpful guide on how to spot fake news, plus their own terms and conditions, but they must have cleaned out their orifices with those.

Those moral principles that we nail to the door of the cathedral are there for the common people, not for the gentry and the clergy at the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post has the divine right of journalist kings and they're here for the head of Shelly Garland, that naughty wife who at first seemed to be producing the heirs they so badly desired, but then revealed it had been stillborn.



I guess nobody should be surprised after exposing hypocrites when they behave in a hypocritical manner. But hey, everybody makes mistakes. Why no second chances?

Why the editor of the Huffington Post should resign


Why no second chances, you may say?

Because, frankly, the editor in charge of the Huffington Post ended up there for manufacturing fake news while simultaneously being the editor of another publication, the Mail & Guardian.

This is already the second chance. This person has brought another publication into disrepute, for doing exactly the same thing, again.

What was their response the first time?

"I have made many mistakes of course, and these have been carefully documented and picked over by social media - but this is the lot of any editor and the unfortunate truth is that women editors will always have it harder" ~ Verashni Pillay


Let's unpack that: She says being a woman means she is incapable of being held to the same standard as anybody else who does editing. So it's not her fault, it's her sex's fault.

She thus admitted that this job is too hard for her and that she is incapable of doing it up to the standard that is required for editors in general. But of course, what she actually meant was, equality is about a doublethink double standard whereby we should have a set of standards for editors who are not women, and another set of standards for editors who are women.

And here I was under the impression that feminism was about equal rights of the sexes. This is what we bash into people's skulls and enforce by means of torture and confession, but when the same standards are expected of us, then being fundamentally evil hypocrites, we respond with fundamentalist hypocrisy.

Even worse, if someone points out this hypocrisy to us, they are the ones in the wrong. When we are called out on our crimes and our harmful actions towards people, those whistle blowers were asking for it by the way they dressed.



Please, if you value your profession at all, spare us the doublethink and do the right thing for once in your life.  If this is not out of incompetence and neglect, then it must be wilful. In neither case, when your miserable and atrocious neglect causes people to lose their income and then you turn around and have the gall to try and make it seem like it's their fault, you should in addition to resigning also consider seeing a professional about that narcissism.





09 December 2016

Fist bump the Trump

I must confess that I did not follow this election as it unfolded, because I have no skin in this game. I only became interested when I saw the crocodile tears on Facebook.

What fascinated me more was that the Trump supporters came out of the closet for the first time to voice their opinions. Virtually none of these Trump supporters espoused racist, misogynistic or any of those kind of deplorable views. Most of them were just pointing fingers at the know-it-all Clinton supporters.

What characterised this election?

Rather than enlightened liberals waging a culture war with backward rednecks and hayseeds, three things characterised this election for me:
  1. Shared hubris: Our candidate is bad, but the other candidate is even worse. Both parties seemed to espouse this sentiment.
  2. Joe Sixpack's Revenge: Based on voter turnout and based on for whom the largest voting group voted, this election was the revenge of the average American. That is average American by sheer number. Nobody bothered to market themselves to this segment. Everyone seemed to be either puffing up themselves, or pretending to stick up for some minority segment on their behalf and for their own good.
  3. Backlash against the Social Justice Warriors (SJW). This was just a knee-jerk backlash against the elitism of college educated Stepford Students, who are educated in Sangoma sciences, and yet are convinced that they are qualified by virtue of that fact to make decisions that affect the lives of ordinary people.

Why am I happy that Donald Trump won?

I am one of those people who are happy that Donald Trump won. Or rather, I am happy that Hillary Clinton lost. Given the characteristics above, I am horrified by both candidates, but I do think Clinton is the worse candidate of the two. I am happy that Joe Sixpack is sticking up for himself, but mostly, I am overjoyed because Trump's victory represents a backlash against the politically correct SJW culture.

Why did Trump win?

Presumably, an election should revolve around policies and not around the candidates or the adequacy of their respective cheerleaders. Wikipedia has a great summary of the policies of both candidates. When one starts there, as I have, a few things become clear:
  • Trump didn't have any real policies. He had a few choice controversial statements, but didn't have any real policies in place. He was open to suggestions in a Populist manner - something he repeated in his acceptance speech.
  • Hillary had an answer and a final solution for everything. The implication is that Hillary is a package deal.  You either had to trust her and accept her entire package, or you were somehow incapable of making choices for yourself and you were worthy of being treated like a leper.
The problem is that Hillary's campaign relied on trust. Americans did not trust her, given the Wikileaks revelations, her ties to bankers, the foreign money in her pockets and her blatant lies.

It turns out it is a naive assumption to presume that policies have any bearing on an election. These policies are just empty campaign promises, so it's evidently about the slogans.

Trump's catch phrase, like Obama's catch phrase before him, was short and sweet and simple and it is something people believe in. Everyone wanted change when they voted for Obama, but they did not see that change materialise. Now, everyone wants to make America great again.

What was Hillary's slogan again? I am playing the woman card, just deal me in.

Did Trump really win or did Clinton lose?

Trump's victory has been labelled a Whitelash (White backlash), but that labelling in itself is part of the Progressive strategy. I think it was more of a backlash against this Progressive strategy of labelling everyone and everything, thereby placing them in neat, plausible and bent out of shape boxes.

Hillary labelled everyone, including herself (Progressive). The comments from Trump fans I saw were especially critical of this divisive strategy.


What is the Progressive Strategy?

"Democratic man, dreaming eternally of Utopias, is ever a prey to shibboleths" ~ H. L. Mencken.

A shibboleth is a stylistic variation in words or customs used to differentiate between in-groups and out-groups. The Progressive strategy is to distinguish between in-groups and out-groups, and then to cast an indisputable value judgement on the out-group. In short, the Progressive strategy is to create a division between us and them.

Of Progressive Basket Cases

The in-group self-identifies as Progressive. Omnipotent and politically correct. There are only two fruit in the Progressive basket, freshly plucked from the garden in paradise: Sanctimony and unaccountability.

"The principal feature of American liberalism is sanctimoniousness. By loudly denouncing all bad things — war and hunger and date rape — liberals testify to their own terrific goodness. More important, they promote themselves to membership in a self-selecting elite of those who care deeply about such things. It's a kind of natural aristocracy, and the wonderful thing about this aristocracy is that you don't have to be brave, smart, strong or even lucky to join it, you just have to be liberal.

The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors— psychology, sociology, women's studies— to prove that nothing is anybody's fault. No one is fond of taking responsibility for his actions, but consider how much you'd have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers" ~ P.J. O'Rourke

How do you get initiated into the in-group? You can achieve piety by accepting fatalism in the product of society sense. Next, you can become canonised when you denounce bad things like income inequality or just inequality in general. Finally, you may receive enlightenment when you cast judgement on those lesser beings who belong to the out-group.

How can you come to accept fatalism? Firstly, by making excuses for yourself, then by making excuses for others. You, yourself? A product of privilege. The invisible hand of fate dropped you in the lap of luxury and now stirs the pot with generous helpings of Middle-Class Guilt.

The Deplorable Fruit Basket of Deplorables (did I mention deplorable?)

They, themselves?  Those others over there? The inevitable outcome of not having had the same privileged background. We must save them. If we're all products of society, then Trump voters must be a result of being misinformed by post-truth news on Facebook. Those poor Trump voters just don't know any better, but instead of engaging with the lepers to examine the sinners, we jump straight to diagnosis. Truly, they are the inevitable outcome of being misinformed. We can fix them by doctoring the Facebook news feed algorithm to get rid of fake news until they recognise us as their Messiahs.

Meanwhile, Trump supporters are more likely to be informed by South Park and 4Chan than by Big Media. Social media is just a trolling playground - nobody takes news seriously in this post-truth age, and nobody should. The REAL news, after all, got all the polls wrong. 

It seems that these Alt-Right Deplorables just wanted to have their voices heard. Paradoxically, they just wanted a safe space to protect them from those safe space missionaries.

Denounce! Repent! The end is nigh!

How do the Progressives denounce bad things? They own the media. Remember, they themselves are mere products of Manufactured Consent thanks to Big Media. They have internalised this Big Media message. They dwell barren, in self-imposed echo chambers on social media resulting from the sacraments of unfriending, un-following and banishing those with dissenting views.

Speaking of banishment, nothing drives home a good banishing like smear campaigns against out-groups. The Big Liberal Media kept repeating their deplorable candidate's name in conjunction with one or more of the deplorables. The missionaries opportunistically handed remaining members of the outgroup a Basket of Deplorables whenever they could by checking their privilege and imposing the self-flaggelation of forcing them to check their own privilege. You don't want to check or even admit your privilege? Must be something wrong with you. You refuse to accept salvation. You refuse to repent. You deserve to burn in hell, you brought it upon yourself.

Deplorables upon Deplorables

The out-group consists of the Basket of Deplorables: Sexist, racist, fascist, homophobic and a few other bad apples I may have missed. Anything that's not Progressive enough. How do you get initiated into the out-group? You trigger someone. Anyone. Over anything. 

Somehow this backfired. These ridiculous standards inadvertently established an extremely low bar for any potential opposition candidate. Certainly, Clinton had a great package deal, but due to this Social Justice Warrior activism, everyone lived in fear. In the Progressive mindset, the worst thing that could happen to a person is to be labelled as one of the deplorables. This means getting banished from the inner sanctum's delicious Kool-Aid.

If the shoe fits, it won't bother you. If it doesn't fit, it would bother you, but then you're already shunned and you're already lumped with the rest of the deplorables. Crying wolf happened so often that it lost its shock value. This backfired so spectacularly that #basketofdeplorables was trending on Twitter in an ironically re-appropriated way. Instead of an effective shaming symbol, it became a badge of honour.

After this weapon of mass media hysteria didn't fend off the infection, Trump was a superbug. He could just wing it willy-nilly, hapless, incompetent, blundering and barely intelligible, but at least he appeared tolerant by comparison.



Creative Commons License