The New Stupidity by tristero

The New Stupidity

by tristero

Digby is absolutely right: Suffocation of Democracy by Christopher Browning is essential reading if you want to understand the dangerous similarities and equally dangerous differences between the Nazi and Trump regime. But it is not the only important article in the current NY Review.

The Autocracy App, a devastating indictment of Facebook and other predatory social media by Jacob Weisberg, also should not be missed (it's behind a paywall, so buy a copy of the print edition, or subscribe). Once again, I'm struck by how incredibly stupid the digital engineers designing the 21st Century are.

Stupid? Yes, about everything that truly matters.

Mastering C++ and other computer "languages" in order to create a social network platform requires merely the ability to master rigid and fairly straightforward logical and mathematical procedures. On the other hand, creating a social network that doesn't directly lead to genocidal horrors — as Facebook's platforms did in Myanmar — now, that's really fucking hard. That takes more than programming ability. That takes a deep understanding of ethics, compassion, empathy, and a willingness to tolerate limits on one's own will to power. That takes genius.

But the men conceiving and programming social networks are no geniuses. If they were, they would have designed different algorithms, algorithms that would never have permitted anything like this to happen:

[H]ow Facebook not so inadvertently assisted the Trump campaign[:] “Project Alamo,” Trump’s digital operation, was far less sophisticated than Hillary Clinton’s. But precisely because it had so little digital expertise, Trump’s side relied heavily on Facebook employees who were provided to the Trump campaign as embedded advisers. Facebook supplies these technical experts to all large advertisers, and in Trump’s case it made sure to find ones who identified as Republicans (similar advisers were offered to the Clinton campaign but turned down). These technicians helped the campaign raise over $250 million and spend $70 million per month in the most effective way possible on the platform. 
The best weapon of Trump’s digital chief Brad Parscale was something called “Custom Audiences from Customer Lists,” an advertiser product released by Facebook in 2014. This tool allowed the Trump campaign to upload Republican voter lists, match them with Facebook’s user database, and micro-target so-called dark posts to groups of as few as twenty people. Using Democratic voter lists, it used the same kind of finely tuned, scientifically tested messages to suppress votes, for example by sending Haitian-Americans in South Florida messages about Bill Clinton’s having failed to do enough for Haiti. And because Trump’s inflammatory messages generated such high rates of “engagement,” Facebook charged his campaign a small fraction of the prices Hillary Clinton’s had to pay for its Facebook advertising. 
While it helped Trump cultivate precision toxins in digital petri dishes, Facebook was simultaneously undermining the old fact-based information ecology. As always, this destruction was incidental to Facebook’s goals of growing its user base, increasing engagement, and collecting more data. But much as it tries to do with individual users, Facebook got the news industry hooked. Publishers of newspapers and magazines understood that supporting the company’s constantly changing business priorities—Instant Articles on mobile, short-form video, live video, and so on—would lead to more traffic for their own pages and stories. 
For a time, the benefit flowed in both directions. But last year, under pressure to stop promoting fake news, Facebook began downgrading published content as a whole in its News Feed algorithm, prompting sharp declines in revenue and layoffs at many media organizations. Since January, a new emphasis on what Facebook calls “trusted” sources has had perverse effects, boosting traffic for untrustworthy sites, including Fox News and The Daily Mail, while reducing it for more reliable news organizations like The New York Times, CNN, and NBC. The reasons are unclear, but it appears that Facebook’s opaque methodology may simply equate trust with popularity.
Yes, in turning down help from Facebook, the Clinton campaign was inexcusably incompetent. But that pales in comparison to the deadly moral incompetence of a company that created a business model like Facebook's that would proactively reward Trumpism .

Look, I've got nothing against STEM. Like any non-Republican, I admire and respect scientific information and reason. But a culture that worships STEM like ours? A culture where the most highly educated and financially rewarded citizens are so morally stunted they actually mistake libertarianism — a crude rationalization of narcissistic indulgence — for a philosophy?

I've been thinking a lot about a book I read when I was a little kid, Why We Can't Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King. That is a work of genius. It would be nice if someone like Dr. King came along and "disrupted" Silicon Valley...