Inside the social media pressure cooker

Reading about the US Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into social media interference in the 2016 presidential campaign makes me wonder whether either the journalists or the people in the committee have any comprehension at all of propaganda either in the last century or in very recent times. Do they really not know about their own government's propaganda methods and interference in the political affairs of numerous other countries over numerous decades?

Taken at face value there's an astonishing amount of naivety in all of this, so what's really going on here and what are the social media silos up to?

To get down to the basics we should first entertain the question: what is Facebook?.

Facebook is really a database run by some guy where almost anyone can create an account and generate posts but where the guy running the show created an algorithm which decides what posts the users of the system get to see, or don't see. Traditionally this is known as a walled garden system. The opposite of the open internet. The guy running the system has devised some fancy machine learning thing which selects what users are shown so as to maximize the advertising income from that. In this system the truth of falsity of statements made within posts is irrelevant and the only thing which is important is for the algorithm to maximize the viewing or interaction with adverts which results in income. This power to generate income via the digital equivalent of a manipulative gaslighting relationship has made the guy into one of the world's top oligarchs.


He who controls what the world gets to read can control the narrative and the cultural frame. In the 20th century this worked in a similar but more primitive way. There were a small number of newspaper, radio and TV barons who had editors who could decide what type of narrative the population ought to encounter. The editor would decide based upon the twin factors of advertising income and political messaging. It was relatively easy for politicians to influence what most people read, by applying pressure to the small number of broadcast outlets.

But the problem is that Zuckerberg doesn't want to control the narrative. He's only interested in being the world's richest manipulator running a technically inferior website. And this is where the rubber meets the road trip.

The US politicians know that the social media pressure cooker which Zuckerberg created could be useful to them. They want the same sort of relationship which they had with the press barons and TV stations in the last century. They can see that the system is already being gamed and they want a preferential slice of that action, or at least to be able to "level the playing field" to make way for their own persona managements systems and shills pushing the narrative about the greatness of the empire. One way or another the guy with the crappy website is going to be brought to heel, or into some situation of reluctant agreement.

The solution that the politicians are pushing for is disclosure of political advertising. This rests upon the question of identity and identity systems. Maybe this is about moving towards a US version of Aadhaar. Or maybe not. If fake identities are sufficient to placate the politicians then I expect Zuckerberg will be content with not having his ear bent by the Senate.

So really all this is a power struggle over who sets the narrative which then decides who gets to sit on the throne of the declining empire.

In the big picture there are also other things occurring. The small number of centralized social network sites collectively known as "the silos" are in trouble. The pressure cooker environment which they have algorithmically engineered for reasons of profit, and which is now causing blowback, is becoming unpleasant enough that hemorrhaging is occurring. I've been around on the independent internet for a long while, and in the last couple of years the numbers of people joining the independent social networks has been increasing beyond anything I've witnessed before. I think that's going to continue and it's something which the politicians will have a lot more difficulty in coopting, since they can't just summon some CEOs and get them to change or censor their algorithms.