Attention in the InfoWars Age
Free Speech versus Reality Distortion
Facebook and Twitter are not government entities. Censorship in the form of banning is not an infringement of free speech rights. But, it does attenuate signal strength which — conditioned upon expressed beliefs or observable traits — invites systemic and opaque censorship. By default, this deserves strong opposition.
Banning Alex Jones does not invite calamity. The slippery slope risk projected and integrated in perpetuity is small and finite; the near-term harm reduction is large. However, the structure of discourse on these mediums acts to obscure the actual danger: unaccountable platforms incidentally control human perception while farming attention.
Social collisions generate engagements. If your profit model demands commodified attention, inter-group rhetorical combat is good for business. Engaged users drive ad-revenue, and the pathological costs are born by society not the company which owns the platform. InfoWars exploits this combative in-between.
The conversations surrounding the case of Jones reflects and reproduces this pathological architecture. The necrotic host of modern conservatism perceived the excision of a malevolent lunatic from a digital space as an attack on conservatism. Because it is. The terminally-septic GOP draws support from the worst of human instincts, mobilized. While Jones has nothing resembling a coherent ideology, people sort his position in relation to American political institutions and identities immediately and correctly. Yet, in their rush to celebrate platforms enforcing a modicum of human decency, everyone else (myself included), fell victim to the attentional hijacking.
Jones isn’t the problem; the architecture is.
Censorship isn’t the clear and present danger; the mediums are.
That Alex Jones could rise to a level of such prominence is evidence of a catastrophe that already happened; continues unabated; and, shows no sign of remediation. People like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg can’t fix it. The set of solutions they (and shareholders) can perceive and the set of architectures which could facilitate a healthy socio-informational environment are disjoint. The premise of a medium which grants unimaginable reach to individuals on the basis of who they “own” yet denies communities the opportunity to enforce boundaries is inherently and fatally flawed. In the mind’s frantic efforts to make meaning from madness, stereotypically-accessible identity consumes all attention. It’s shared and refined into the singular cause to all effects. That’s the message. We need a new medium.
Originally published on medium