Otherwise engaged refers to our time as a time of distraction. As a time when social media is actually beginning to focus our attention on things that are distracting. And I want to talk a little bit about first of all of our new—and it’s going to sound like an oxymoron, but it’s our new sort of distracted modes of engagement.
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Extremists around the world are increasingly being thrown off of social media. And so…the big question that I’m going to try to answer is, is this effective? Is it good? Is it good for the platforms? Who does it benefit? Is it good for the platforms, is it good for the extremists, is it good for the Internet, is it good for society at large?
Lo and behold humanity is fairly consistent. We would mention mornings in the mornings. We get tired sort of towards the evenings. Talk about coffee more frequently in the morning. These are the sort of normal diurnal patterns that we see on Twitter, right. As expected. But when interesting events happen and events that are out of the ordinary happen it’s very clear that they happen.
I will tell to you a few things about the first Twitter bomb that with my colleague we found a couple years ago. And there it was a case in which somebody was attacking the candidate Martha Coakley in the last Massachusetts elections. We found out that actually it was easy to detect this kind of attack.
So here’s what happened. If you tell people you’re going to have this super-open, absolutely non-commercial, money-free thing, but it has to survive in this environment that’s based on money, where it has to make money, how does anybody square that circle? How does anybody do anything? And so companies like Google that came along, in my view were backed into a corner. There was exactly one business plan available to them, which was advertising.
In 2011, the cultural critic Emily Nussbaum reflected on the flowering of online feminism through new publications, social media conversations, and digital organizing. But Nussbaum worried, even if you can expand the supply of who’s writing, will that actually change the influence of women’s voices in society? What if online feminism was just an echo chamber?
A couple of major platforms like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, have become in many places around the world a de facto public sphere. Especially in countries that have less than free Internet, less than free mass media. And these countries have transitioned from a very controlled public sphere to a commercially-run one like Facebook.
I’m going to argue today that even while we know post-truth politics is having a terrible effect on our political culture and our role as citizens, it’s curiously difficult to combat it because of a set of beliefs about what politics is, and about the Internet and the way it enables ordinary people to have a voice. And these beliefs intersect with a prevailing anti-intellectual anti-elitism which associates knowledge, discernment, and truth with snobbery and power.
We’ve already been through several situations where new technologies come along. The Industrial Revolution removed a large number of jobs that had been done by hand, replaced them with machines. But the machines had to be built, the machines had to be operated, the machines had to be maintained. And the same is true in this online environment.
I think there’s an unprecedented opportunity to change our relationship with political power. And I don’t think we need to be afraid of it. I don’t think we have to compromise our core principles in order to do it.
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