Down the hole

by Andrada Costoiu

For some time, I have been thinking about some fundamental questions, such as the one of how did our societies became so polarized? Why are people so polarized when it comes to race, religion, why are people so polarized in general? I know that there are many reasons why, but I have recently come across a story that reveals disturbing facts.

I was listening to a New York Times podcast, that talked about the radicalization of a young man through YouTube videos. This was an aimless young man, in his 20s, who had a computer and spent a lot of time on YouTube. He became attracted by a far-right community, because he felt a sense of belonging. Besides the podcast, there is also an article in NYTimes about it. Here is the link for it if you want to read more about his story:

What struck me in this story was the evidence provided by a former YouTube employee, a French PhD, that explained how YouTube feeds you what to watch next….and next…and next. YouTube has an algorithm that controls what you can choose to watch next and based on your preferences (your history of watched videos) would suggest the same kind of videos. They say that this algorithm is responsible for 70% of the time spent online.

Now, not only YouTube, but many other platforms offer access to conspiracy theorists, extremists and all kinds of misinformation. Although YouTube and other platforms are outwardly liberal, they are still a place where all kinds of people that are arguing whatever they may, have reached large audiences. 

What if you fall into one of those rabbit holes? I think it is an efficient method of brainwashing. 

For YouTube and media alike, their business measures in time watched and in ratings.  They would give you the same kind of material, because they assume that you like it and that you would keep roped for long by giving you information on the same subject, from the same kind of sources.  For them, it’s all business. The more you watch, the more time you spend on their platforms, the more money they make. They’re not interested in providing a user with alternative narratives, with alternative points of view. 
For them, is not about the quality of information. It is all business. 

But is it all business for people? No. Not so much. For us, real human beings, it’s our lives. We possess an incredible neuronal plasticity that allows us to be shaped by our experiences. 

There are a lot of people out there, especially during this pandemic, who do not have wide social contacts and spend their time navigating the internet. If you involuntarily hammer your brain with the same, the same, you might not even realize that you are being misinformed, or that you start believing in who know what conspiracy theories. 

I think the best we can do is at least be mindful of this possibility. Be more aware and judge through your own lens whatever information we are fed. I think it is important to stop taking the information we are fed at face value. 

And, on another note, I have previously written a small article about how media controls the narratives. This is not new, in fact, media has been called the “fourth estate” because of its wide influence and its weight in steering one way or another the public affairs. Remember the Vietnam War and the photos of casualties and soldiers wounded? Did we see the same thing during the Iraq war and Persian Gulf conflict in the 90s and 2000s? No. We didn’t. Why? I’ll let you think for yourself and answer that question…..

The media controls what we see and hear. The media decides what we should hear and see.
A lot of things that should be said have been effectively silenced. 

I personally am trying hard not to be dumbed down by corporate biased news. It is hard. But I do seek information on things that are important to me and that are not talked in the media the way they should be because of low ratings ( i.e. climate crisis, community issues). I do seek alternative views on everything that I read and I do not believe everything is out there.  

7 thoughts on “Down the hole

  1. You got to always try and put yourself in the other guys shoes – it keeps life interesting and fun, but not always of course sometimes you wind up thinking the other guy is nothing short of a lunatic!

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  2. In all honesty, i beg to disagree with anyone who contends that Caleb (or anyone) was a victim of Youtube’s algorithm and was PUSHED down the rabbit hole. There’s a famous quote: An empty mind is a Devil’s home. That’s the case with this guy. I’m not a part of any social networking site but YT. And YT’s algorithm is very random, i can say with certainty. Their recommendations are trivial at worst. And regarding NYT, they are a group of KARENS joined by some intelligent peoples.

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  3. I do not know about the YT algorithms but the story of the people who worked for the site seemed very compelling. In regards to NYT being a group of Karens, could you please explain that? This is not my impression at all but maybe I will learn something from your wisdom. Thank you.

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  4. Haha.. there’s a lot of sarcasm in there towards the end. I’m quite used to that now.

    NYT has problems with everything that has happening around the world regardless of their overall nature. Journalism is not about finding negativity about everything and putting it in exaggerated terms which is exactly what they do. Journalism’s aim should be to let the people’s know what they don’t and they should. NYT does that in many cases, but mostly they are as i described them above.

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  5. Yes, there was sarcasm and your reply made me smile :))))). I am not a media guru but I don’t agree with you that NYT is a bunch of Karens, I think that they are probably one of the most reliable sources we have in the US. Is that the best we could have? Probably not. But they do verify their sources. I refrain to make comments about their negativity and exaggerations, as I don’t know what you are referring to. Though, the articles I have came across from them were well informed. I do agree with you in what you say about journalism. To expand on what you said…..I’ll add that we hardly find news that are not corporate driven, and that goes for media at large. Aside from the media discourse, our world is very troubled. I’d like peace, progress and kindness. Sadly that is not the case. Proof, besides the Coronavirus mess, look at Myanmar just now….

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  6. NYT is, by far, the best source to learn about sensitive matters. It is my first choice for any such issue. But what i’ve been able to observe thus far is that they assert rather than propose. They assert things before they are even able to be judged which has led some very unfair incidents. I wonder how haven’t they gone bankrupt cuz of loads of defamation cases.

    Liked by 1 person

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