MisDisMal-Information Edition 16

This newsletter is published at techpolicy.substack.com

An excerpt from Edition 16 is reproduced below.

Of Amplification Mechanics, Disinformationception, WHO let the bad advice out and Asides

Hate Unlimited and Mechanics of Amplification

The Negative Positive Loop

Many years ago, I read an article that..er…spoke to me. I couldn’t find the link (thanks google algorithm that now makes it very difficult to search for something from anything more than a year or 2 ago) but the basic premise was this – our capacity to hate is infinite, our capacity to care is finite.

Sorry, didn’t mean to throw you into a gif-wall to start with (ok, maybe I did, just a little bit) but if you look around, it is tempting to believe that is the case.

I tracked 2 outrage cycles this week.

  1. The Book about the Delhi riots that was (launch event), then almost wasn’t (publisher backed out) and finally was again (new publisher came onboard).
  2. A news anchor engaging in outright dangerous (and hateful) speech.

We seem to forgetting about 1) so I’ll come back to that. Indicative popularity of the hashtag bloomsburyindia using OSOMe’s Trends tool

Let’s talk about the second case now. Said news anchor insinuated that an apparent increase in the number of muslim citizens clearing the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams was part of some nefarious plot to take over the bureaucracy. I will refrain from commenting on specific numbers since this is isn’t something I track, but qualitatitvely the assertion seems absurd.

Anyway, he tweeted a teaser video to an upcoming show where he promised to reveal all. Understandably, people were incensed (there was also no shortage of people who agreed with him) but let’s focus on the former group first. He was called out. The mechanism that many accounts chose to use was a Quote Tweet. In some cases they also choose to speak out against the hashtag he used and happened to include it in their tweets. You would have observed that I am tiptoeing with language here, not because I want to avoid offending anyone but because these mechanics are extremely complex – there are no defined does and don’ts that we can happily stick to.

The next 2 images indicate how the hashtag and his tweet itself spread. Note that I used Hoaxy to generate this, so it should be considered indicative at best

I did a short thread regarding this, the gist of which was that even the act of calling him out seems to be aiding its spread.

To be fair, I did see people use screenshots too but I don’t have a way to estimate how those spread unless I look tweet by tweet. And since Twitter is not really suited for nuance, I had to shed a lot of it.

I should categorically state that at no point am I advocating not pushing back. ‘Ignore them’ is often raised as a possible course of action – but the reach of this anchor puts him far above that threshold.

  • Calling out such acts has the potential to send a signal about what is acceptable and what isn’t.
  • It creates awareness
  • It can recruit more to the cause.

But, the way platforms operate – the mechanism of calling out can give the content an *algorithmic reward* leading to further amplification.

Aside: Kate Starbird did a thread (+ post) on a Trump tweet that Twitter took action against. Why am I talking about this? When I pointed this case out to her, she replied saying that RTs of QTs gave the Trump tweet much more reach than through RTs of the original

Since I ruled out ‘Ignore’ in this case – I attempted to map out how interactions may play out between Group A (his supporters), Group B (those calling him out). I ended up with a bunch of feedback loops (mostly positive). Irrespective of whether enough pressure is generated on the platform, law enforcement and any private entities he may be associated – polarisation wins. How do you tame the beast without feeding the monster?

I should repeat that I am not advocating against pushback. I’ll just borrow Whitney Phillips’ phrasing again – Pushback is important, it also deeply fraught.

Go here for the complete edition.