Roar writer Theodore Nash on the January 6 Capitol Hill riots and what they say about the ways in which we consume information.
The Earth is flat, 5G causes Coronavirus, Biden’s the head of a paedophile ring (as well as a Satanist), and the 2020 election’s a fraud. These ideologies, among many others, have become rife in the Internet age, but we must not simply dismiss these claimants as being absolutely mad… because they’re not.
They just live in a totally different world to you. We all do. Everything from our Google search results to our Instagram “Discover” tabs are curated and sorted to increase our usage time, and thereby our exposure to ads; we’re not the customer of these “free” services – more like the product. And the thing about human psychology is that we tend to engage more with negative, even shocking content than with positive content, motivating media producers to create ever more skewed reporting. We’re more likely to consume, comment on, and share a news story that horrifies us. So over time, a large number of highly biased stories engage our primal emotions, evoking feelings of hate… perhaps even disgust for the “opponent”. The result of this is rifts, formed between families and friends all around the world, splitting people into different parties, motivated more by spite for the opposition than admiration for the preferred. When Trump was in hospital with Covid, friends of mine horrified me when they raised a toast to his death – surely that’s on-par with “Killary”?
We are each trapped in our own information bubbles, perceiving events completely differently depending on our political swing. In an age when follower and subscriber counts arguably influence one’s credibility rating more than references or alma maters, facts become twisted until they become lies. A lot of people in my generation would jump at the opportunity to become a successful and popular influencer – think of Alex Jones of Info Wars fame who, with an estimated net-worth of $5 million, has spread misleading far-right stories and conspiracy theories to his tens of thousands of followers.
Turning on the TV Wednesday evening, I was confronted with distressing images of the hallmark of democracy being sacked. Waging a war against the process that put Trump in office is not only ironic, but also dangerously destructive to the democratic model. The men and women President Trump encouraged to break into the Senate must have genuinely believed that “the election was rigged” – why else risk a lifetime behind bars or a bullet in the brain? Social media played a large part in presenting alleged evidence of fraud; but the constant reinforcement of such views from POTUS was tantamount to verification of the theories these people consumed online, leading to an invasion which resulted in several deaths and countless injuries.
With deep-fakes becoming more and more common, anyone can download a piece of free software, and with a few minutes of sample footage, make a video of anyone saying anything. I dread to think how our next general election, or the US election of 2024, will look. For if we continue down this path, at this velocity, there will be no way of determining fake from real. How will we ever know a politician’s true agenda… if that we ever have?