The Internet Size Problem

Size does, actually, matter.

The Internet Size Problem
Photo by Håkon Grimstad on Unsplash

There is a reoccurring theme with news articles, the internet, and people with strongly held beliefs: you end up seeing mostly what you want to see, save for a few major news headlines that sweep the whole e-verse for a few days like a stormy tide. The flotsam we encounter on a daily basis, however, is that which is confined to our own little stretch of beach — from which we often only sort out those things we find particularly interesting.

But there’s stuff washing up all along the beach, and different things show up in different places. If we just stay in our tiny plot, we’re going to miss what’s happening elsewhere on the shorefront, unless one of those big storms comes along and mixes things up.

A BLM example

I saw a comment on Twitter, recently, deriding Black Lives Matter supporters for not showing up in outrage over the police murder of a man in a wheelchair.

The tone of this tweet was exceptionally smug, as if it were some sort of “gotcha” moment designed to catch someone in a lie. But the Black Lives Matter movement has been consistently calling for police reform that would affect everyone. That’s, like, a major part of their platform.

The thing that struck me, however, was this:

I actually think that the poster believed his post to be correct. From his perspective, there was no mass-media outrage about the shooting of this (white) man in a wheelchair. Therefore, it stood as proof that Black Lives Matter supporters aren’t interested in any sort of broader justice or reform. Except… there was outrage. A lot of it. But the outrage took place in groups of Twitter users that this person would never connect with.

To return to my earlier metaphor, his section of the beach didn’t have any outraged flotsam about this one incident; therefore there was no outrage about the incident. Since this one particular issue did not make a major news storm, our diligent watch guard of fairness and justice had no idea that other people were, in fact, outraged.

The point… has been missed

Of course, all this overlooks numerous important facts.

Not only does BLM generally endorse massive structural changes to policing in the United States that would curb police violence against all citizens, but there are specific reasons why BLM exists in the first place that are specific to people of color, and black people especially.

There was a lot of talk a while back about the “echo chamber” concept. If you’re only connecting with a limited group of people who have extremely similar views, you’re going to find yourself simply reconfirming your own beliefs (while ostracizing, intentionally or unintentionally, any conflicting beliefs). On top of this, the nature of the current form of the internet compounds the problem.

The internet, as it currently stands, is mostly designed by a few super-corporations that seek “engagement” from users, and to get this engagement they are willing to do anything to keep you online: even if it means making you angry. The more content you see that goes against your beliefs, the more likely you are to engage with that content (the corpos don’t care what sort of engagement you provide). After all, the longer you stay on the service, the more likely it will be that you buy into the advertising.

Other concerns have existed as well, such as Google’s terrible search algorithms, which have promoted furtherance of extremist views. By shuffling people ever-faster toward an echo-chamber that suits some aspect of their search habits.

What’s to be done?

We can try to remember that engaging online is only fueling the companies that profit off us, and we can take our action directly to legislative efforts. We can concentrate on unification through class identity and build coalitions who will strive for similar goals. We can take time to read things by people we don’t necessarily agree with, and try to see their side of things, even if it makes us angry and upset.

Sadly, I doubt the people who need to do this the most, will.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

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