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.