Eugene Linden
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Imagining a Post Pandemic World

How might a post-pandemic world look and feel? Let’s imagine a creative team at a New York City advertising agency pitching a campaign in 2050 for a new perfume (more than most products, perfumes are sold by attaching to the dreams and aspirations of their times).  The Big Apple, ...

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POST ELECTION THOUGHT


Sunday November 22, 2020

As is the usual case with things Trump, his efforts to delegitimize the election are achieving the opposite. Each thrown out law suit, each recount, serves as another piece of supporting evidence, solidifying the meme that Biden's victory was rock solid. If Trump really wanted to delegitimize the election, he would have been better served by grudgingly accepting the result and then spending the next years bringing up all the arguments his minions have brought up now, only to be systematically knocked down. It's possible that his rivals for 2024 realize this and they remain silent because seeing him flail and fail undercuts his pitch that he's a victim of a plot.

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Short Take

A Slippery Slope?

I’ve had some back and forth with some friends on the insurrection last week and the subsequent media bans. Some see a slippery slope towards censorship; I see a unique set of circumstances. 

With regard to the invasion of the Capitol, it speaks to the sheer lunacy of the moment I would be quoting a  Wall Street Journal editorial, but they put it best: The head of the executive branch incited an attack on the legislative branch with the hope of overturning a lawful election. Zip-tie carrying paramilitary troops thinking that they were aiding Trump’s cause, came within minutes of kidnapping members of Congress. They were actively seeking Pelosi and knew where they were going. Trump had urged them to come to DC, and then urged the march on Congress, using the word “fight” 20 times in his speech, and saying he would be with them.

Even before the insurrectionists were driven from the Capitol, violent fringe elements had begun planning major events for Jan. 17, and also to disrupt the inauguration.

This is a unique set of circumstances.

The uniqueness comes from the relatively new element of social media, particularly Twitter, and the instantaneous reach and enormous scale of the internet.  These factors turbocharged the volatility of this already combustible situation. Never before in our history have people been able to instantaneously recruit like-minded people. Given the explosion of human numbers, this means that truly dangerous psychotics have a lot of company. 

They no longer have to seethe alone and can join with others who share their delusions. And they have guns.

Truly dangerous psychotics are rare. I don’t know what the numbers are, but probably upwards of one in a thousand. Even that low guess would amount to 330,000 people in the U.S., and the number is probably far larger. 

The point is that if a meme gets out there – e.g. that Democrats are led by blood-drinking pedophiles who stole the election – it might gain casual traction with large numbers of people due to a long-standing susceptibility to conspiracies in the U.S.  (I’ve been thinking about this susceptibility since I first investigated fragging in Vietnam).  Much more dangerous: the meme will also gain recruits among that tiny, really violent, really delusional, fringe. And if there’s a goal or an event, even though that cohort represents a tiny percentage of the population, they can be rallied and brought together to become a significant force. And again, they have guns.

We saw this last week. Yes, there were a lot of people who sincerely bought Trump’s lie that the election was stolen, and came to DC thinking there was still a chance to pressure Pence and others to overturn the election.

But, we also saw a Who’s Who of nut groups leading the charge -- neo-Nazi’s, Proud Boys, Confederate flags wavers, holocaust deniers, holocaust embracers (!), militia members, and God knows who else. Most of these were feckless blowhards, but the invaders also included  the zip tie guys, and others who were blood brothers to the fanatics who wanted to kidnap and lynch Gretchen Whitmer.

The execs of Twitter, Facebook, etc. saw what happened and recognized that their platforms were being used, either directly or through Parler, to organize similar, violent events in the run-up to the inauguration. They also saw that the fomenters were using Trump’s tweets to bless their crusades with a patina of legitimacy, even nobility. 

At Twitter the staff was in near open rebellion, and I’m sure that execs at the other companies wondered about liability, culpability, ad boycotts, and Elizabeth Warren campaigning to break them up if another violent event resulted from their passivity. (Apparently, a potential ad boycott was one reason why the head of content at Cumulus radio threatened to fire Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro, and Dan Bongino if they didn’t STFU about the election being stolen.)

So, the tech and social media giants acted, and in doing so, dramatically underscored their awesome power. This show of force is going to provoke a lot of discussion about how these companies exercise discretion about content, about whether they should be broken up, regulated, or otherwise held responsible for their content and their decisions about content (which would dramatically shrink them). 

I don’t think they are going to come out of this unscathed. 

One other thought. IMO, the biggest disruption of the internet can be summed up in one word: disintermedition. The internet has given people direct access to data, markets, people, information, and endowed everyone with the ability to be a pundit, reporter, influencer, or brand. 

The disappearing intermediaries are the editors, producers, fact checkers, brokers, market makers, etc., who previously, maintained standards, buffered markets, and in myriad ways provided some friction that in the case of mainstream media, prevented complete fabrications from gaining traction with the broader public, and, in the case of markets, modulated price movements and reduced the probability of panics. We’re going to miss them.

 



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