The Gravity Well of Social Media decline

It’s amazing to watch how someone intelligent, well-qualified, erudite and seemingly sensible can be dragged from their lofty perch into the depths of conspiracy theories, wild accusations, dodgy political affiliations and suggestions, and general weirdness. And it’s interesting to see how this decline gathers pace and the theories get more bizarre as the downward spiral progresses.

Like coins whirling around a gravity well. (You’ll know it when you see it.)

Yes, like that. Starting quietly and smoothly, seemingly all under control, but gradually getting faster and faster and more and more frantic before plunging into the big black hole.

It could have started with a little thing: maybe annoyance at CNN for alleged misreporting of any given incident, or perhaps their city council for not fixing a thing that they were supposed to. Before you know it, the US election was stolen and the mayor is a corruption-ridden gangster. And once we’ve done Trump and local politics, there’s Covid lockdowns and mask mandates. And suddenly we’re deep into accusing Hilary Clinton of paedophilia and delving ever deeper into the anti-vaxxer rabbit hole.

In a way, I think I understand the causes. It’s easy to feel powerless and unheard in this modern world. Like you’re the only one telling the truth, but no-one is listening as you scream into the abyss. And then, you find someone who tells you that they agree with you and you discover kinship and you begin to support their ideas too. Then there’s a group and suddenly, there’s strength in numbers, even when all they’re shouting out is complete bullshit.

It’s interesting to note a couple of things about this decline into insanity, though. Firstly, the way the information is shared by these people can often be very subtle. A quiet retweet, the sharing of a post, the mention of a controversial theory: nothing direct, nothing explicit. Almost like they know that they would be ridiculed if they outwardly and openly expressed their feelings or beliefs on the subject. And secondly, the limit of just how far they will go: there’s almost always an invisible line they won’t cross at the far-out nonsense of chemtrails and a flat earth.

Professor Timothy Cookbook is a prime example of both these approaches. But then there is plenty that he’s said and done that is every bit as bad as telling us that 5G is a New World Order plan to depopulate the planet, so we really shouldn’t applaud him for tacitly agreeing that yes, we all live on a big ball.

It’s almost funny to see these individuals spouting statements each one more desperate, more nonsensical and more demonstrably incorrect than the last, but of course there’s a serious side to it as well. Because when less intelligent, well-qualified, erudite and sensible people see educated, popular individuals saying these things, they may well choose to believe them. Well, of course you would, because these people are intelligent, well-qualified, erudite and sensible, so they must know what they’re talking about, right?

“With great power comes great responsibility”, sure. But sadly, with great power also comes great power, and that does seem to be all they actually care about. Because you must also understand that when everything goes to shit with the able assistance of these “thoughtleaders”, they’re not the ones who will suffer. They all have their comfortable lives and their escape plans.

We’re living in an ever more divided world, with viewpoints and opinions instantaneously amplified by social media echo chambers that support our every utterance and immediately decry and attack any dissenting voice. There’s no hope of rational argument or anyone’s mind being changed. Everyone is entrenched and knows their “truth”.

The only difference being that some of it is backed up by facts, and the rest is just a single tweet away from agreeing that the Lizard People and the Rothschilds are running the (flat) planet.

Day 307 – I’d like to make my own mind up, please.

I was just scrolling through some news stuff yesterday and found this image of Donald Trump by [checks notes] Samuel Corum for the New York Times last August:

Religious iconography on fleek. Very clever.
And a lesson for anyone who has a fancy eagle light on their office wall.


Anyway, compare and contrast that with this:

Well halo there.

Equally clever stuff by Mr Reuters in getting Joe in front of the Presidential seal (it’s a symbol, not a marine mammal). Clearly deliberate and clearly echoing Renaissance depictions of saints:

Also equally religiously iconographic, but very much batting for the other side.

Look, I’m with you. Trump was awful. Is awful. And don’t get me wrong, I love both these photos, and they both demonstrate high quality, thoughtful photography. But just because Donald was bad, certainly doesn’t mean that Joe is a saint, and I’d like a bit of time to make up my own mind about President Biden, please.

Time without having your subliminal messages thrust upon me, Reuters.

That’s Reuters, whose Trust principles say that they:

require independence, integrity and freedom from bias.

And yes, I know how it works: you licence all their content, but you then only share the photos and articles that you choose and that suit your narrative or fit your story, but this image was actually part of a Reuters tweet:

Which makes me feel a little awkward about just how independent their journalism is on this particular subject.

Recent politics

Our Dear Leader Jacob Zuma survived another vote of no confidence at the ANC NEC this weekend, despite the conveniently timed release of several (or more) emails detailing how his chums in the Gupta family are essentially pulling the strings that make the country work.

And yet, the important guys in the top echelons of his party still voted to keep him. And you realise that when they do that in a democratic environment (which is what the ANC NEC supposedly is) then the problem is with the party, not the president.

But let’s watch as those dissenters all fall dutifully in line again after this thinly-veiled threat:

Meanwhile, the ex-leader of the official opposition and Lord High Empress of the Western Cape, with this HUGE open goal to aim at, is fighting with her boss about whether she can stay on for another term, given the alleged damage that she is causing to the party.

A local mayor wasted time praying for rain last Thursday.

How could you have missed that Donald Trump has been being Donald Trump internationally this week?

And in the UK, Labour comedy duo Abbott and Corbstello refuse to condemn terrorist acts from the 1980s, blame UK foreign policy for the Manchester attack, went to a “poignant” ceremony honouring terrorists from the 1970s and tell us that “the terrorists will not prevail” while… er… planning to radically alter UK foreign policy because of terrorism.

Thus – with a language warning in hand – please see this cartoon which illustrates the approach that many people will be taking towards the subject of politics today (and for the foreseeable future).

Really. Life would be so much more pleasant if we didn’t have to worry about these people who have been elected to serve us and whose salaries our taxes pay.