Internet Memes are Destroying Civilization!

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? Part 6
(read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

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My last post was on happiness, this is the exact opposite.

As you all know by now the US has elected a ultra right wing dictator wannabe who the only hope he gives to continued freedom in this country is that he has no idea what the hell he is doing.

This comes just months after the UK did something extremely stupid and voted to leave the European Union.

Both were campaigns built on lies, both were billed as “protest votes” of the status quo.

Both got their start as internet memes.

Nobody thought the UK would vote to leave Europe, the very idea was ludicrous. At the same time nobody thought an illiterate celebrity would become President of the United States.

And yet here we are. Both results created overnight economic recessions that we may never recover from.  The desire to “stick it to the man” is a universal one, but sticking it to the man is not smart when “the man” signs your paychecks.

But don’t think this is isolated to just the US and UK. Awful people and policies are being voted on around the world for the same reasons.

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The Role of the Internet Press

Old fashioned media is dying. News today is all about the click bait, paid advertising, and getting eyeballs and email subscribers. The internet is becoming filled with “humor” websites that just rehash lists and funny news stories from two or more years ago (so you forget if you already read it) and turn them into slideshows that slow your internet down with advertisement gifs and videos.

(Personally, if one of these sites publishes something I am interested in, I will just google the title and find the original story sans ads, or barring that, right click and view source and see all the slideshow text right there buried in the code. But I digress.)

The thing is, the news is driven by clicks and memes. If a story can’t generate clicks, it goes unreported.

Brexit generated clicks in the UK, people were fascinated by the idea of Britain without Europe. Eventually they lost site of the fact that it was a really bad idea, but less educated working class thought it might be fun to try something different.

Similarly, Donald Trump generated clicks in the US. For some reason, people have this myth that if we ran government like a business, it would work better, and therefore a businessman should run government.  No one bothered to find out that it NEVER works! Every businessman elected to high government office has failed miserably. I give you Governor Evan Mecham as a typical historical example.

It is estimated that Trump got $4 Billion in free air time from the complicit American media.  In a campaign season that cost $5 Billion, that is a lot of free advertising.

The media wouldn’t report on Trump so much if it didn’t bring in clicks. TV news got higher ratings with Trump, and internet based news got millions in new ad revenue.

The media is not going to turn that kind of money down in the interest of equal time.

For that reason, I blame the media — all of it, both “liberal” and “conservative” — for Trump’s victory.

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Memes are Ruining Democracy

The term “meme” originated from the 1976 book The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. The  meme is a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, and like a gene the best ones replicate themselves into human culture.

Memes have always been a part of US politics. From “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” to “Yes We Can” the meme has been a major factor in elections. And they are not always positive. “Daisy“was a negative meme that won Lyndon Johnson the White House in 1964.

With the internet, memes find a huge petri dish to replicate rather rapidly into millions, sometimes billions of minds.

In an article in the Guardian by Daniel Haddow, he makes the case that this petri dish has a major negative effect on intelligent discourse:

What’s novel here is an inversion of control – political memes are no longer rare flashes of uncensored personality or intensely manicured visual messages. They are now born from the swamps of the internet in real time, distributed from the bottom up. They have grown into a form of anarchic folk propaganda, ranging from tolerable epigrams to glittering hate-soaked image macros akin to a million little rogue Pravdas.

Like me, you probably have more than a few Facebook friends who make it their life’s work to circulate political memes in hopes of influencing how you see the world. They are our deadbeat uncles, former co-workers and long-forgotten high school acquaintances. They are agents of nowhere, apparatchiks of nothing in particular. And through the raw power of mass replication, even their most insipid ideas are able to surface from below. By typing some text on an image and sharing it with friends, they too have a voice capable of reaching a critical mass.

The reason why it is now possible for Darryl from Accounting who hates “social justice warriors” to have the same communicative power as a television network is down to the DNA of the medium: speed and lack of gatekeepers. Memes thrive on a lack of information – the faster you can grasp the point, the higher the chance it will spread.

He then links to a Breitbart article written by  propagandist Milo Yiannopoulos (a very pro-Trump web site) which explains the use of meme warfare, or as he calls it “Meme Magic” in getting Trump all that free publicity:

Trump’s supporters have treated the campaign as one long trollfest. First Jeb, then Marco and finally Lyin’ Ted all stumbled and fell before the chaotic power of Trump’s troll army. Facing a hilarious combination of in-jokes, YouTube remixes, and Photoshop mashups, Trump’s opponents were subjected to non-stop ridicule from the cultural powerhouses of the web.

The internet made them look stupid. The internet made them look weak. And what begins on /pol/ and leaks out into Twitter has a way of colouring media coverage and, ultimately, public perception, even among people who don’t frequent message boards.

The power of Trump’s branding is partly down to the media’s hunger for drama — but it’s also in large part due to his internet supporters, who have an uncanny ability to create and popularize cultural tropes. Or, as we on the internet have come to know them, memes.

Haddow continues:

At their most basic, meme warfare presented an opportunity for individuals to seize control of the means of media production from corporate interests. It was a viral and open-source medium that would allow individuals to compete for attention against the all-consuming hydra of advertising, marketing and public relations.

This line of thinking was, in retrospect, breathtakingly naive. It assumed that the act of meme generation by a non-corporate entity would be innately good. Like many instances of the tech-centric idealism, it would unravel in spectacular fashion. It’s not that anti-corporate activists were wrong about how the internet could be leveraged to change politics – it’s that they were terribly right.

To Meme or Not To Meme

The success of internet trolling in shaping the debate in this election will go down in history as a watershed moment.

Do we condemn it? Or do we create an actual meme war — debate social issues with nothing but memes devoid of intellectual honesty as long at it infects the viewers brains.

Science and rational, logical thought should be the tools of debate.  Meme warfare has undermined rational though in favor of easy tag lines, which are often false (“England is better off without Europe”) or too simplistic and unrealistic (“Let’s build a wall”).

George Orwell was absolutely right! “Newspeak”, the language of propaganda and control, is now alive and well in internet memes.

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Memes are a Symptom of Democracy Run Amok

Back in the 90’s I was big into philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. In Plato’s Republic parts 8 and 9, Plato describes the tendency for different forms of government to morph into others. History has proven Plato right time and time again. His most upsetting is the transformation from democracy to tyranny:

“Can liberty have any limit? Certainly not…By degrees the anarchy finds a way into private houses…The son is on a level with his father, he having no respect or reverence for either of his parents; and this is his freedom…Citizens…chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority… they will have no one over them…Such…is the fair and glorious beginning out of which springs tyranny…Liberty overmasters democracy…the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction…The excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery…And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty… “

So what does this mean? I’ll explain shortly in more modern terms.

But first, Andrew Sullivan took this as a starting point in an excellent article written in May of this year, which turned out too prescient: Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic

Democracy to Tyranny in the Internet Age

The internet has democratized media, putting every poster, blogger, and vlogger in charge of the news to their followers. This ultimately created “bubbles” of followers who follow their favorite internet media stars to the exclusion of actual researched and vetted information.

These “bubbles”  have their own version of reality often very at odds with actual reality: “Obama is a secret Muslim!”,  “Immigration is killing our jobs!”,  “The government is hiding space alien corpses at Groom Lake!”, “The “rapture” will happen soon so we don’t need to worry about the environment!”

The mainstream media no longer has control of public conscience, and as a result there is no common understanding of “facts”. Civilization requires a common understanding among its citizens.

Once lies become widespread among many bubbles, it becomes a substitute for the actual facts, thus a new fantasy reality is born.

We have self sorted ourselves into different groups who live in different realities and moralities. It is no longer possible for people living in one reality to communicate with members of another reality and convince them of anything.

Eventually, as Plato predicted, one “reality” will become tired of the belittling of its fantasy reality and will seek a tyrant to impose the “new reality” on the unenlightened.

Democracy becomes a dictatorship. Trump has all the qualities of a tyrant, if we let him become one.

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The Internet is No Longer a Reliable Source of Anything

Since I wrote this a new chapter has arisen in this drama. “Fake News” is being blamed for Trump. Specifically, Facebook and Google’s complicity in spreading fake news reports without identifying them as fake.

At the start of this series, I mentioned that the internet as it currently stands is predominantly controlled by a handful of websites. Facebook, Google and Wikipedia are among them.

The problem with this consolidation is it reduces what it takes to control the truth. This TED talk explains “astroturfing” or fake grass roots movements to control “research” with marketing.

Google is trying to do its part by cutting off paid advertising on fake news sites, thus cutting off their main source of income. Considering how easy it is for fake news to bubble to the top of Google News, I am not sure it is enough.

Facebook is quietly figuring out what to do. Earlier this year it was revealed that Facebook adjusts their “trending” list based on the readers perceived biases. This caused a bit of a conservative backlash which halted moves to expand the program to keep “fake news” from trending. Due to their complicity in creating “President Elect Trump” they will no doubt do something eventually.

As the video above points out, Wikipedia has its own problems with what is truth and what is fake.  They are supposed to have their own safeguards, but increasingly it is not working out that way.

And so we are left with a conundrum: Where can we get the truth? An even worse conundrum: How do we survive in a world where the “majority” believes the lies?

18 thoughts on “Internet Memes are Destroying Civilization!

  1. wayward4now November 9, 2016 / 4:40 pm

    And who is at fault for nominating Hillary as the choice for Democrats?? I can think of a dozen better qualified candidates that could have been nominated and won. As a geek I would expect you to be willing to strangle Hillary for that email debacle, and the subsequent lying about it. Being “pig-ignorant” is no longer a defense in the connected world we now live in. There are only consequences for holding national secrets on an unsecured server, because it WILL be attacked. And, it was. Then it all got blamed on the Russians instead of a group more likely, like Anonymous. Or, some high school kids looking for some LULZ.

    Our little website runs, at my insistence, using https. That was not an accident, it was by design. So, I voted for Trump, who was the enemy of my enemy, thus my friend.

    • arianeb November 9, 2016 / 8:27 pm

      The details of what you say are inaccurate, but your point is taken. Hillary’s ignorance of how the internet has changed things largely led to her downfall.

      Hillary thought that she could control her message, she couldn’t. Outdated polling techniques are also in part to blame. The “polls” were wrong, “trending” was right.

      I was not a fan of Hillary either, but Donald is not my friend. Authoritarianism is an enemy to freedom. Watch the police get more militarized and the prisons get bigger.

      • wayward4now November 10, 2016 / 10:54 pm

        Sorry Arim, I disagree. For certain we have change. For certain we will always have change. The trick is to get through the grief cycle towards acceptance and pitch in to see that the change becomes more acceptable to you and your sensibilities. I voted for Obama twice. I wouldn’t vote for him again. Now it is all on Trump. More power to him to do the “Right Thing”. Ric

      • Arim C. November 10, 2016 / 11:16 pm

        Wayward4now, you are entitled to your opinion.

        While I agree that change can be good…it can also be very bad.

        If Trump himself was willing to break through his cycles of hate and be a better person, that would leave me less skeptical of him as a person.

        I respectfully strongly disagree with the notion that Donald Trump can do “the right thing”: Unless people have to be his aides and keep things that sensible, and Donald Trump can at least accept that much sensibility without messing it up.

        I at the same time respect trying to keep the peace between parties. But, I’ve yet to see living proof of it with Donald Trump.

        And, no: Temporarily making himself look good does not in any way count. Actual good and good intentions in the long run is good.

        Anything that temporarily makes a politician look good just makes him or her a liar you can not easily trust: Whether it’s not so secure emails or more serious allegations.

        That’s how we ended up with the state the country is in: There was so much temporarily making someone look good and so much hate thrown around(started by Trump no less) that we didn’t have the chance to have much any real debate until the last minute. By then, the votes were already decided on because of just how tired everyone was of the same old arguments over and over again.

      • norsegraphics November 20, 2016 / 9:05 am

        http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/us/after-freddie-gray-death-west-baltimores-police-presence-drops-and-murders-soar.html?_r=0

        And the solution is to remove the police force? Then what happens is this; murders soar and become war zones.

        http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/12/the-prison-industrial-complex/304669/

        The reason for an increase of the prison population is that they’re cheap/almost free labor. The laws get stricter (will jaywalking become a prison-term offence?), because the Wall Street needs it’s free pool of cheap labor.

        Solution; focus on this in media, and expose those behind the curtains (*cough* George Soros *cough*). Fight against this in the community, and though your local vote.

        I’d have a lot better view of politicians like Bernie Sanders if he didn’t sell out, just sayin’

      • arianeb November 20, 2016 / 9:21 am

        Using the name “George Soros” is an instant tell that you are a victim of the fake news and memes that I am writing against.

        George Soros is an old rich dude that provides funding to liberal candidates, just like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.do to conservative causes.

        And yet the Alt-Right has made him out to be some sort of boogety-boogety man that is controlling this country. Other than funding Media Matters, he has absolutely zero control over the media. Worse, almost everything the alt-right says about Soros is true of the Kochs and Adelson. They routinely pay for protestors when they need them.

        Bernie didn’t sell out, he saw reality for what it was. It was Bernie supporters that voted for Trump that sold out.

  2. Arim C. November 10, 2016 / 12:58 pm

    You summed it up very well and more.

    Donald Trump is a tyrant, a racist, and a sexist.

    As long as he’s in power, this country is going to be a dictatorship.

    As long as he’s in power, he could declare war on anyone or anything and rack up propaganda like it’s 1984(the book of the same name, not the actual year).

    The only way he’ll be out of power is if it turns out he was conspiring with Russians, or if a second American civil war brings him down.

    We’re already seeing lots of protests in the country. It’s not media generated propaganda: This is happening.

    I can only hope he’s either too incompetent to do much damage(and so more qualified people have to “be his aides” when really they’re holding him and the rest of the country up so there isn’t damage done), or he’s out of office before he does too much damage.

    Least there’s always immigrating to Canada or other countries before he officially starts office. But, things are going to get worse before they get better: There is no nicer way to put it.

    • norsegraphics November 20, 2016 / 8:57 am

      So, when are you gonna leave, if its that important? Every snowflake out there “threatened” with leaving to Canada (why not Mexico?), and every one of them lied. Some said they were “just joking”. If they can lie and joke about this, why should I ever take them seriously?

      1.Trump being Hitler is at least uncharitable
      2.Changes do not transform the US instantly, it’s a reason for the voting system that is set in place in the US.
      3.There’ll be no changes when it comes to: gay marriage (for), LGBQTXYZetc.-community (I don’t care about another persons anatomy/sexual orientation)
      4.And as tax-payers goes to their job, they pay for YOUR riots in the streets, because they can’t take a day off for no good reason.
      4.I can’t take grown up adults seriously, when they need “Play Doh”, tissues and hot chocolate for their “cry in”…..

      Source:
      http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2016/11/09/colleges-try-to-comfort-students-upset-by-trump-victory/

      Face it, “liberals” lost because they’re so out of touch with the constituents they got a huge “F*ck You” (quoting Michael More), and are still reeling from it.

      People who voted for Trump aren’t:
      -Racists
      -Misogynists
      -Religious nuts

      And the majority of women voted for Trump, and he also got the popular vote. So, stop whining and grow up. The same thing happened with Brexit. It seems 2016 wil be the turning point when stupid things like “safe spaces” and cis-genered BS will go out the window.

      • arianeb November 20, 2016 / 9:42 am

        The majority of WHITE women voted for Trump. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote is close to 2 million. Again you are reading the fake news.

        No, most who voted for Trump are not racist, misogynist, or theocrats, at least I hope it is most, but when given the massive amounts of evidence that Trump is definitely a racist and a misogynist, and an incredible narcissist, they voted to not care. I have a problem with that!

        As for the whole “political correctness” stuff, you should know this: Political correctness does not really exist.

        If it does exist, it is nothing more than being nice to people. “Political correctness” is a term coined by the assholes who don’t like to be told they are assholes and want to continue to be assholes, so anyone who tells them they are assholes must be “politically correct”.

    • Arim C. November 20, 2016 / 2:11 pm

      I’m not whining.

      Echoing what most more liberal and clear thinking people are saying? Yeah.

      Because if you take away all the misogyny and all the sexism…

      Here’s facts:

      1) Donald Trump stayed on top of media trends and temporary popular opinion to get more votes: Even though he’s been known to completely not care much so long as he gets fame or money or his way in other ways.

      And, that’s if he didn’t rig it in some way or another.

      2) Even aside from having mostly white men to turn to or supporting his campaign… Who do you have left?

      Mostly white women that look like supermodels. They’re fan service to “seem” to appeal to women voters, when really that’s all it usually is with him.

      3) Most celebrities either like to get attention, can jump to conclusions but mean well, and/or follow Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in a smart but trying way.

      But, let me ask something you seem to be forgetting:

      How many US citizens have actually accomplished moving to another country just before or after Donald Trump winning?

      I may not be because I’m somewhat close to Canada, and I’m in a safe zone for now at least(I’m talking a coastal region). But, do we actually know how many people moved out of the US: All celebrities aside?

      Yeah. We don’t.

      But, I’d be more interested in those statistics: Especially since Canada is of course not the only option, and shouldn’t be.

      Canada can be great and all. But, becoming a citizen there is not easy at all.

      Ok. I’ve said all my high points.

      I’m getting off the soapbox now.

      • Arim C. November 20, 2016 / 2:14 pm

        I’m directing all of this to Norsegraphics.

        Apologies for the confusion. The reply system can be a little confusing on here.

        But, feel free to add more if you want.

  3. Fenorty November 10, 2016 / 2:38 pm

    Hey Ariane if you need Help with the German translation, i can help you.😀 i found some mistakes in Date Ariane.

  4. norsegraphics November 20, 2016 / 8:46 am

    All hail Kek. You know Hillary lost when she started to wage war on memes…

    • arianeb November 20, 2016 / 9:43 am

      [citation needed]

      • wayward4now November 20, 2016 / 6:21 pm

        “Bernie didn’t sell out, he saw reality for what it was. It was Bernie supporters that voted for Trump that sold out.” Arianeb what?? While I was a Democrat, I voted for Bernie, and then instantly regretted it when he lost his microphone to those protestors. Afterwards Trump remarked that they wouldn’t have taken HIS mike from him. There you have it, Betas need not run for President, only Alphas like Hillary and Trump need apply. That was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen to watch ole Bernie stand there blinking and helpless. Ric

  5. Dirk November 21, 2016 / 6:32 pm

    Love your games but I disagree with your take. The email scandal wasn’t about Hillary not understanding the internet. She was the Secretary of State and dealt with foreign countries, in which she would exchange favors for money. Saudi Arabia, other than North Korea probably the country with the worst human rights, gave her 11 million dollars for a quid pro quo deal involving the sale of fighter planes to them. Transparency is extremely important when it comes to government officials who deal with foreign govs, and Hillary intentionally hid her emails and when they came looking for them, scrubbed her server clean of anything she didn’t want them to see. Saudi Arabia is currently using the equipment provided by Clinton to commit genocide in Yemen. Thousands of children have starved to death due to her actions. Say what you want about Trump, I don’t like the guy, I think he is awful and his position against NAFTA and his buddy-buddy attitude with Putin is worrying. However he is not responsible for numerous deaths in the way Clinton has, making him automatically morally superior.

    https://theintercept.com/2016/08/25/why-did-the-saudi-regime-and-other-gulf-tyrannies-donate-millions-to-the-clinton-foundation/

    You should read this if you’re interested, it’s by Glenn Greenwald who is super liberal himself.

    • arianeb November 21, 2016 / 10:56 pm

      I think you are putting two and two together and getting 11.
      Clinton’s handling of emails during her tenure as Secretary of State have absolutely nothing to do with the Clinton foundation. Separate issues.

      Clinton had very little to do with sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, that was Congress approved. Congress loves selling American manufactured weapons to foreign countries, and Saudi Arabia is a big client going back to the Reagan days.

      There are also two email scandals here: 1. Clinton’s use of a private server during her Secretary of State days, and 2. the now confirmed Russian hack of DNC servers containing Clinton campaign internal memos. They are also separate issues.

      Clinton’s use of a private server was a bad move on her part. This article was written by a personal friend who I trust and it definitely doesn’t make her look good: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/03/opinions/fbi-report-on-clinton-opinion-cox/

      I also agree with Glen Greenwald that donations to charity look fishy. But the Clinton Foundation actually does do good work, and spends most of the donated money on actually doing the work, unlike the Trump Foundation that Trump uses as his own personal piggy bank.

      Did Clinton solicit those big donations? According to the Russian hacked emails themselves, she did not, nor did she do any actual favors because of those donations. There is no external evidence that she did either. They only show up in the Russian hacked e-mails as a discussion between her and her campaign chief discussing potential issues that may arise during the campaign.

      Meanwhile, while we are comparing sins of corruption, today’s revelation that Trump is using his position for personal business is EXACTLY the kind of corruption you accuse Clinton of with no evidence. http://thehill.com/policy/finance/307050-report-trump-pressed-foreign-building-project-in-congratulatory-phone-call

      As for Trump not being responsible for numerous deaths? I can answer that in 3 words:

      HE WILL BE!

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