Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Media Virus, My Problem Child

A slice from an essay by Douglas Rushkoff, taken from the book The End Of Trust, featuring Cory Doctorow, Edward Snowdon and Douglas Rushkoff. Published by EFF. 
When I first used the expression “media virus,” I thought I was describ-ing a new sort of total transparency; media would finally tell the stories that our controllers didn’t want us to hear. If a cultural issue is truly repressed or unresolved, a media virus invoking that issue can nest and replicate.
The perplexing thing—the part I didn’t fully understand until now—is that it doesn’t matter what side of an issue people are on for them to be infected by the meme and provoked to replicate it. “Look what this person said!” is reason enough to spread it. In the contentious social media surrounding elec-tions, the most racist and sexist memes are reposted less by their advocates than by their outraged opponents. That’s because memes do not compete for dominance by appealing to our intellect, our compassion, or anything to do with our humanity. The media space is too crowded for thoughtful, time-consuming appeals. When operating on platforms oversaturated with ads, memes, messages, spam, and more, memes need to provoke an immedi-ate and visceral response to get noticed. “The Clintons are running an occult child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria.” In a race to the bottom of the brain stem, viruses compete to trigger our most automatic impulses.
Well-meaning and pro-social counterculture groups from the Situationists to Adbusters and Greenpeace have attempted to spread their messages through the equivalents of viral media. They cut and paste text and images to subvert the original meanings of advertisements, or the intentions of corporate logos. It is a form of media aikido, leveraging the tremendous weight and power of an institution against itself with a single clever twist. With the advent of a new, highly interactive media landscape, internet viruses seemed like a great way to get people talking about the unresolved issues that needed to be discussed in the light of day. After all, this logic goes, if the meme provokes a response, then it’s something that has to be brought up to the surface.
But we can’t engineer a society through memetics the way a biologist might hope to engineer an organism through genetics. It’s ineffective in the long run, and—beyond that—unethical. It bypasses our higher faculties, our reasoning, and our collective authority.
The danger with viruses is that they succeed by bypassing the neocor-tex—the thinking part of our brain—and go straight to the more primal reptile beneath. The meme for scientifically proven climate change, for example, doesn’t provoke the same intensity of cultural response as the meme for “elite conspiracy!”
Logic and truth have nothing to do with it. Memes work by provoking fight-or-flight reactions. And those sorts of responses are highly individual-istic. They’re not pro-social; they’re antisocial. They’re not pro-cultural; at their best they are countercultural. They can galvanize a particular group of people, especially one that feels under assault. If the group is genuinely vulnerable—such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, or #ArabSpring—then this solidarity, though usually emotional and oppositional, is still beneficial to the group’s identity and cohesion. But the very same memetic provocations work, perhaps even better, to galvanize groups on false pretenses. As long as the deep fear, rage, or panic is activated, it doesn’t have to be based in reality. Indeed, fact-based rhetoric only gets in the way of the hyperbolic claims, emotional hot buttons, and mythic claims that rile people up: blood and soil, black men will hurt you, foreigners are dangerous, Lock Her Up. The less encumbered by facts or sense, the more directly a meme can focus on psychological triggers from sexism to xenophobia.
--Douglas Rushkoff, The Media Virus, My Problem Child (Taken from the book The End Of Trust. Free Download Here.)

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