Andrew Marantz: “Social networks have accelerated the reach and breadth of far-right messaging.” | technology

Donald Trump’s run for president was aided by a large number of agitators who used social media to spread misinformation, incite hatred, and support his candidacy. Various conspiracy theories, such as Pizza portal, slipped into the general discussion. And frankly xenophobic ideas, never before seen with such aplomb and self-confidence in the United States, journalist Andrew Marantz (New York, 38) plunged into the bowels of the far-right propaganda machine. began to stay with influencers Conservatives, some of whom are white supremacists, who post such content. He saw them at work, attended their parties, witnessed their discussions, and felt their motives.

The result of his research turned him into the book dissociable. The Far Right and “Freedom of Speech” on the Internet. We hit our audience with emotional triggers they just can’t ignore. This is a psychological process. The book was published in 2020, and the following year its Spanish-language version (Captain Swing) was released. editor The New Yorker He studies at EL PAÍS in Madrid. He is visiting Spain at the invitation of the Valladolid Cultural Forum, where he will take part in a talk on Friday. He believes that what he describes in his work, the mechanisms that make certain messages spread across the Internet, “will shape our society for many years.”

Ask. What has changed in the two years since you wrote the book?

Answer. The details have changed, but the structures have remained the same. My goal was to understand the rules that dictate how information travels across the Internet. It has nothing to do with the streams of newspapers, television and radio. I just wanted to show what was going on, so I started looking for people who make money with ads on the internet.

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s. What did you discover?

R was found. I realized that the main mechanism that makes everything move is what we call “emotional involvement.” It turns out that there are some feelings that work better than others. Exploiting them will spread your message across the Internet. In traditional media, editors apply their criteria and choose whether the story is worth telling and what vision they want to present. No online filters: It’s a points system, and there’s no editorial judgment. I started hanging out with people who play this game everyday. Some have done whatever it takes to push the numbers up just because they wanted to make money. Others did it for ideological reasons, to create chaos, or simply because they wanted to watch the world burn. There were also those who used it very systematically to help a candidate win an election. But the mechanism is always the same. How can I make some feelings heighten and others less prominent? How can I use pictures and words to raise people’s blood pressure, scare them, anger them, doubt them, or hate them? Often, those weren’t the only feelings they knew how to cultivate, but the ones that worked best. The basic emotions that hooligans appeal to have been the same for thousands of years.

Marantz has been associated for months with some of America's most famous alt-right advocates.
Marantz has been associated for months with some of America’s most famous alt-right advocates.Andrea Comas

s. Do you think social networks are doing enough to prevent the spread of problematic content?

R was found. They do something, but not enough. It’s not about censorship or not, I think this is not the right framework. Nobody likes censorship. If you go to a nightclub and the music is so loud you can’t hear anything, people set chairs on fire and throw them out the window, and you don’t know if your drink has poison in it, it’s not a good club. If you complain about all this to the owner, he will not tell you: “I’m sorry, I believe in freedom.” People won’t want to stay at that disco. Everyone believes in freedom of expression. The question is: what are we going to do to create better conditions so that people can have a drink in this club?

s. This week, the US Supreme Court kicked off a major trial against Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Do you think there is a lack of organization?

R was found. It is complicated. When people take a hard line ideology, they never come up with the right answer. Elon Musk says he has absolute freedom of speech. And not so: he deleted the Twitter accounts of those who shared information about the whereabouts of his private jet. Do you like freedom of expression for ISIS to radicalize people? That’s what this Supreme Court case is about. Did a Google executive kill someone? no. Should they be held responsible for the killing? No. They have nothing to do with this? Well, it is not clear. This is where these questions get tricky. My opinion is that it is dangerous for the government to criminally regulate any of these matters.

Social networks are not doing enough to prevent problematic content from being posted.

s. because?

R was found. If we go back to the nightclub analogy, ten years ago it was just a small place with ten chairs. Now the situation is very different. They have billions of people, and their algorithms make editorial distinctions that determine what people can and can’t see on the platform. It all depends on the algorithm and how emotional interaction you get. You may sit in a chair for ten years and no one will see or hear you because you are not good enough publicity. This is a decision the company makes. I think they should be regulated, they should pay taxes, monopolies should end and they should offer safe products, but I’m not sure that applying criminal penalties is the answer.

s. Would the American far right have gotten as far without the help of social media?

R was found. Tech companies are the largest companies in the world, and it’s crazy that they could be as unregulated as they are now. But fake news, misinformation, hate speech, and prejudice existed thousands of years before the Internet. It is true that social networks speed everything up. They change the speed, scale, scope and breadth of the problem. The way we think evolves over time and is affected by the thoughts we are exposed to. Nobody is immune from it. It is an illusion to say that you are for the market of ideas and that everything will fix itself.

s. What happened to what they call in the United States the “alternative right” in the past two years?

R was found. Some of the characters that appear in my book still have public presences, and some don’t. There are those who have been expelled from Twitter or Facebook. Many of those I thought would be the first to disappear are still out there. A lot of them don’t like Trump anymore, they got off that wagon too soon. I’m not entirely sure that the tactics Trump used will work again. But many of these technologies have been standardized. The great skill that alt-right advocates have is that they can take what used to sit on the fringes of the internet and turn it into a popular topic of conversation. The refugees say they want asylum, but in reality they are terrorists who want to destroy the country. The elections were rigged. Hillary Clinton is dead and someone else has replaced her… It’s very easy to pay attention to someone like Trump saying this nonsense. The damage has already been done. The next Trump-style candidate will be able to adjust his message to sound more calm or respectful, less blunt and offensive, but the policies he promotes will be similar.

The book goes deeper
The book “Antisocial,” published by the journalist in 2020, delves into the mechanisms that enable the spread of misinformation and problematic content on social networks.Andrea Comas

s. How can you combat this fascination mechanism that I described in the book?

R was found. I love facts. in The New Yorker We have an army of fact-checkers, which I also used in my book. But I know facts don’t always win arguments. If there is an emotional or identity truth that someone wants to connect with, they can find ways to distort reality so that it prevails. It is something we have to fight against. We have to come out and say that it has been proven that the Earth is not flat. I think it is important to do the right thing. But we also shouldn’t be surprised if telling the truth doesn’t always lead to victory.

s. So, is it about showing the truth in an emotional way so that it prevails?

R was found. Yes, some of the sentiments you can use bring people together; Others destroy people. You don’t have to use only negative emotions, like fear and doubt, even if that’s the easiest and cheapest way. The Obama campaign expected an emotional engagement. This is a little trickier than playing on fear, but it’s not impossible. You can appeal to people’s identity as subjects concerned with community and solidarity.

To get your message online, you have to raise people’s blood pressure.

s. Do you think ChatGPT and other similar tools would fit into that equation, in crafting messages that appeal to people’s instincts?

R was found. I think you can pay both ways. Of course, it is a big problem that it can be used to amplify misinformation and nonsense. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has no idea of ​​the truth, so it can be manipulated and weaponized in a variety of ways. The far right can use AI, and so can the left. I recently read in a socialist magazine that we should use it to convert people to socialism. You can enter into a dialogue and say: Do you think people should starve on the streets? Do you think people should not be able to pay their medical bills? And then you can let people put in arguments and say, oh, actually you were a socialist from the start, you didn’t know that. Artificial intelligence is a new tool, just as social networks were at the time. You have to use it to try to win the culture war.

s. Will AI Tools Fuel the Next Attack on the Capitol?

R was found. maybe. These things cannot be stopped once they become part of the fabric of our lives. I believe that generative AI will be present in the next great developments in politics, in the same way that mobile phones and social networks are today. In 2012, it was interesting to discover the impact of social networks on elections. Today we don’t even talk about it.

s. In the book, he talks about social networks such as Twitter, Facebook or Parler. Have any other things come up in recent years that catch your eye?

R was found. Tik Tok. It is very interesting because it is most determined by algorithms. It gives you very few options. Basically, you sign in and it shows you what you want to show you. And it’s incredibly addictive. This short video platform is getting Facebook, Twitter or Reddit to start moving in that direction. If I wanted to analyze what would happen in the world, I couldn’t pretend that my 8,000-word articles went viral the same way TikTok went viral. I have to acknowledge the fact that I work for a legacy media outlet and face the consequences.

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