Jaron Lanier explains to David Baddiel why social media has led to a rise in populist politics.
In the BBC documentary “David Baddiel: Social Media, Anger and Us”, the English comedian, presenter and author explores the impact of social media on our lives.
In the documentary, American computer scientist Jaron Lanier explains to Baddiel how social media is changing politics.
David Baddiel: “Jaron Lanier… was instrumental in the beginning of the Internet. But he has since become a renegade warning of its perils.
“He wrote a book quite recently called “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” and he specifically talks about the way that algorithms within the Internet tend to push users towards addiction and extremism and violent speech and all that kind of stuff.
“Since their creation, the big social media platforms have primarily made money through advertising. They’re a Holy Grail for advertisers because they use algorithms to track individual buyers likes and dislikes.”
Jaron Lanier: “Here’s how the algorithms work. The algorithms must get your attention and then what they do is when they see you engaged, when you’re clicking a lot then they reinforce it.
“Now the thing is, the human emotions that result in the most measurable behavior changes for engagement are the fight or flight emotions. These very ancient emotional responses.”
Jaron Lanier: “So the whole population has their fight or flight responses activated a little more than they would have otherwise and the ambient result is an increase in paranoia and irritability. Those are the mildest versions of fight or flight.
“So you start to have a politics based on paranoia and irritability. And that happened all over the world at once.
“So if you ask why is there this sudden wave of these right wing populists all over the place? Why do we have Bolsonaro and Brazil at the same time?
“Well, the list; Sweden, Philippines, Turkey, China and India. All of these countries have histories that could explain their shift, but to have them all move at the same time?
“You could say it’s demographics. You can say it’s income distribution. You can say it’s immigration, but what does Sweden and Brazil have in common in any of those things? Not a lot.
“So the only thing they have in common is Facebook and it correlates. So that’s probably the best explanation for the global trend.”
David Baddiel summarises Lanier’s explanation:
“For Jaron, the constant stimulation of the fight or flight response, a physical reaction to feeling under threat is what’s causing much of the anger and rage.”