Want to cure this conspiracy hell? Turn off Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
It will never happen, but it would be problem solved. Because they are platforms built to thrive on utter bullshit. And in 2020, they are thriving.
There’s this thing Elon Musk is working on at the moment called Neuralink. His other projects, Tesla and SpaceX, get all the press — but Neuralink has always been the one that’s blown my mind. The project’s website sums it up like this:
Developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.
In essence, it’s going to wire your brain directly to the internet 24/7. You won’t be typing things into Google anymore, your brain will be Google.
But here’s the thing: have you looked at your screen time report lately?
I’m not trying to be the shakes-fists-at-sky.gif, but we’re pretty much on our phones at least six hours a day already — so all Elon Musk is doing is shifting your chunky iPhone from your sweaty palm, and into your mushy brain.
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My point is this: it’s no co-incidence that your friends and family who are on Facebook heaps are suddenly shouting about kids trapped in underground tunnels, 5G towers spelling the end of the humanity, or Bill Gates secretly visiting New Zealand as as part of his microchipping masterplan.
This last week, we’ve seen health & wellness types jump on the idea that masks are bad for us.
In an absolutely madcap move I didn’t see coming, some of them are now tying masks to the child trafficking narrative:
We got here because of social media.
And while many of the conspiracy theories that lead us here formed on message boards like 4Chan, they’ve only found mass appeal after making the jump to Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and YouTube.
Your friend from yoga who now believes Bill Gates is the anti-Christ? They didn’t get that idea off an obscure forum — they got it off a Facebook group.
I’d argue that if 10 years ago someone started telling their friends at book club about adrenochrome, or that they were about to go and burn down a 5G cell tower, their friends would look concerned and say “I am not sure that’s such a good idea.”
Whereas now that same person hears a rumour on someone’s Instagram story, follows a few links, and then find 50,000 believers in a Facebook group.
And they’re gone, just like that.
We’ve lost them.
On top of that, Facebook thrives on engagement. Mark Zuckerberg wants you on his website for as long as possible, so you can see any many ads as possible. A good way to to do this is to create conflict, so people get entrenched in their point of view, then spend more time on the site arguing in the comments.
All this debate over whether COVID-19 is real or not — that’s crack for Zuckerberg. He loves it. It’s crack for Twitter, too. And while Jack Dorsey has made more of an effort to help, he’s still a wet fucking rag.
So the solution is simple: we need to convince vulnerable people — statistically those from a conservative Christian background or those involved in alternate health — to get outside.
Ben Collins at NBC has written this excellent piece about this today, talking with a woman who fell down the rabbit hole:
She said she was most active in a 20,000-member Facebook group called “THE EVENT/THE SHIFT,” a group focused on how the world is set for a dramatic “shift” because of frequencies and energies.
“I’ve always been the type of person where I'm very natural health oriented — all of the, you know, hippie stuff,” Rein Lively said. “I am a very spiritual person who believes we are on the precipice of a new era of humanity.”
Group members shared conspiracy theories about an accessible fifth dimension, beliefs that frequencies were changing for the better across the Earth, and offered advice on how to “ascend.” But over the last several months, members of the QAnon community began to seep in. President Trump, they claimed, is a “light worker,” working to save the world and bring about the energy shift.
Collins also spoke to experts who said this person’s experience is far from unique:
Erin McAweeney, a senior research analyst at Graphika, a New York-based social media analysis company, discovered that some alternative health, religious and anti-vaccination communities appeared to become singularly focused on COVID-19 health misinformation right as the pandemic was beginning to ramp up in the United States.
I’d argue that somehow, we need to get these people outdoors. Literally get them outside: walking, socially distanced, and away from their devices.
It will never happen, but we can dream.
Better still — turn off Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
It will never happen, but it would be problem solved. Because they are platforms built to thrive on utter bullshit. And they are thriving.
I did an experiment last week, and reached out to one of New Zealand’s biggest YouTube stars, who had begun to share “Save Our Children” content on his Instagram.
In Aotearoa, he has a bigger voice than all our news channels put together.
We both knew of each other irl, so figured I could try and have a reasoned discussion.
We went back and forth for quite awhile, and it never got toxic — but after talking some more, and sending him a bunch of articles about the origins of this stuff — it all boiled down to this message they sent to me:
I asked if he read it, and got nothing back.
They definitely didn’t read it.
Because it wasn’t a 10 second Instagram story, or a whacky collage of photos. It wasn’t carefully packaged and consumable in the blink of an eye. It didn’t appeal to emotions and magical thinking. It was just boring old logic.
Their reply to me also illustrates the other thing that social media’s done: It’s taken away our attention spans. And it’s taken away a tonne of other stuff that’s really important in the field of journalism: things like verified sources, multiple verified sources, and fact-checking.
So we end up in a world like this, where madness runs free:
That last account is run by a popular mommy blogger here in New Zealand. Earlier in the week, she was asking for a lawyer — angry that the posts she’d shared were being shared by me on Webworm.
I’d argue that if that blogger wasn’t spending hours on Facebook, she wouldn’t believe that pedophilia is being pushed a sexual orientation, or that a biblical prophecy is about to be fulfilled.
She didn’t get this stuff from book club. She got it from Facebook groups, and other infected brains on Instagram.
Our brains are utterly fucked.
So turn it all off, I say. Turn it all off. It will never happen, but we can dream.
PS: You know how I started this newsletter talking about Elon Musk’s Neuralink?
I mentioned that it would wire us into the internet 24/7, and give us access to every bit of information that’s online, instantly.
Well, there’s another reason scientists and engineers are frantically working on this.
It’s so that when artificial intelligence comes along, and we have machines that are sentient and 1,000,000,000 times more intelligent than we are, we will be part of them as well.
It means there’s a small chance that instead of killing us all (as any logical, super smart machine would do instantly), then we just become a part of them.
We would be AI.
Seems totally fine and not scary at all.
PS: I am not scientist and have probably explained this very badly, but this essay from 2017 over at “Wait But Why?” blew my tiny frazzled brain, and I suggest you read it.
It’s long — set aside a few hours (and a coffee) to gently read it like a book on a Sunday morning. It’s worth it, even if you hate Elon Musk.