• Rodney Whitehouse

Trump is a Superbug!

I heard something today that got me to thinking about how Trump seems untouchable. That he, and his entire ecosystem, is utterly resistant to facts, just like superbugs and superweeds shrug off antibiotics and herbicides. For those of you who haven’t heard, superbugs and superweeds are organisms unaffected by antibiotics and weed killers: Superbugs: Everything you need to know, Superweeds, Superbugs, and Superbusiness. Long story short, overuse of pesticides and antibiotics have caused these organisms to evolve resistance to our entire arsenal of high-tech defenses, basically taking us back to the time when, if you got an infection, you died. Ok, not quite that bad, yet, but it’s an increasing problem, especially in hospitals where intensive use of every chemical defense known to man has bred some of the most dangerous strains on the planet.

What’s that got to do with politics? Glad you asked! You have to have been living under a rock, (or perhaps in your Doomsday Prepper, off-the-grid underground shelter) to not have noticed the rising tide of misinformation, disinformation, or, to call a spade a spade, lies, floating around in all areas of human discourse. It’s gotten so bad that I have to carefully check things I passionately want to be true, just to be sure it’s not some kind of misrepresentation, or just a flat out lie. (Which turns out to the case, more than I would like.) The common wisdom is that these ‘mis-info-memes,’ or whatever you chose to call them, are like viruses, infecting the ecosystem of our public discourse and using it for its own ends: That of generating more mems and perpetuating the cycle. But, nope, memes are not like viruses. They are more like toxins generated by invading bacteria. What we have is a serious bacteriological infection our social systems, spewing out toxins that could be fatal, unless we do something about it.

We have always had ‘villages gossips’ that spread fake news and misinformation, probably for as long as we’ve had language. But, for most of our history, their influence was local, and, since everybody knew everybody else, things usually didn’t go too far before the community clamped down. People developed natural defenses, in the sense of knowing who could be trusted and who couldn’t. But now, all the signals we use to tell the Trusted from the Dingbats, have been hijacked and weaponized to create a bacteria-like system of fake news, and miss- and dis-information generators, that multiply in the shadows, and spew toxic memes on a 24-7 schedule. Exactly like food poisoning, these generators spray toxic messages into our national conversation, saying everything and anything to divide us against each other, and the systems we depend on to survive.

The cry now is for social media to clamp down and stop spreading this stuff. While that’s not a totally horrible idea, it completely misses the point: Media doesn’t spread memes, People do (Ok, bots do as well, but that doesn’t change my point), and only people can stop it. Today, the world is in the grip of a pandemic, caused by a virus that we have no high-tech methods to fight. So we’ve had to fall back on the tried-and-true methods of Wash Your Hands, and Stay the Hell away From Sick People. The same thing should apply to our social media: Wash your hands, i.e. make sure you’re not spreading toxic ‘news,’ and ‘Social distance’ yourself from any ‘infected’ person or organization online that is spreading toxins.

Yes, social media could do more, but not by deciding who gets to talk and who doesn’t, but by providing tools that allow people more control over who and what they interact with. This is how society has always worked, people get to choose who the listen to and interact with, and people’s reputations follow them around so that others have a chance to make an informed decision about whether to trust them or not. The system wasn’t perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than what we have now, with trolls f-bombing any conversation that isn’t locked down under high security, and “news” sites saying, literally, anything they feel like, for politics, money or both, with no consequences, social or legal, whatsoever. It will probably be up to us users, to force provides to provide effective and efficient tools that allow us to isolate accounts that don’t follow group norms.

Before you scream “censorship” and “free speech,” first convince me that you are perfectly happy with anyone and everyone in the world, bombarding you with anything they want to say, 24-7. No? Didn’t think so. How about being out with a group of friends and having random people butting in, constantly criticizing and preaching? Maybe throwing a few death threats? No? Well, that’s what it’s like online, where it’s impossible to have a civil conversation these days without trolls crashing the feed.

Freedom only works if there’s responsibility, but responsibility requires consequences. We need to stop blaming ‘the media’ and start being responsible for our own choices in what we consume, believe and spread, and create and enforce consequences on those that abuse their right of free speech.

As always, comments and respectful discussions are welcome.

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