19 Nov 2016

HyperNormalization -- the review

I've watched, enjoyed and learned from Adam Curtis's other documentaries ("Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" and "The Century of the Self") but his most recent, "HyperNormalization" is extremely timely, as it starts with a trend of deception in the 1970s that delivers Trump's victory just 10 days ago.

Perhaps the most important part is that social media companies -- which make money from serving advertisements (and thus want you to visit and click often) -- are entirely fine with (a) misinformation, (b) echo chambers, and (c) personalized reality.*

Their goal is not to show you the truth or to force people to face and engage over different perspectives. The goal of companies like Facebook, Breitbart, Twitter, Huffington Post, et al. is that you get angry and click a lot. Do those clicks force others to see your perspectives and insights? No, because they also isolated by the same algorithms. The resulting segmentation into isolated communities yelling online does nothing to affect life and policies in the real world, where the 1 percent are left to find new and interesting ways to deepen their power and increase their wealth at a cost to all.**

Can you make Facebook work for you, like the protestors at Tahrir Square used it to help their rebellion? I don't think so, since The Algorithm is NOT optimized to help you. It's designed to make money.***

Bottom Line Helpless anger and depression is not a bug. It's a feature. I give this documentary FIVE stars for revealing a lot of fact to be fiction.

* Years ago, I said that Facebook could NOT be good for users, as its revenue model was not subscription charges but advertisements. I joked that FB would only be able to make money by blackmailing people like me with personal information, but now I see that FB is *still* making money off of me b/c every article I share or click on generates money to facebook from the media companies that depend on Facebook for readers (and thus people to click on THEIR advertisements).

** I wrote this in 2010:
FB is often Fakebook, a place where people create their perfect version of themselves. That's not an issue per se (we all like to see our best sides), but this exercise can get out of control, so that people spend more time living in an imaginary world and less time face-to-face with people who see them in all their dimensions, good and bad.

*** I got so angry writing this, that I deactivated my Facebook account. (No, you can't delete your profile because Facebook, like the Hotel California, can never be left. FB will use your data forever.)

On choosing to "deactivate," Facebook The Algorithm argues with you, using psychological manipulation. First, there's the guilt trip:

Then there are arguments against your reason for leaving.

I just said "other," i.e., Facebook's advertising model serves companies, not me.

Addendum. "It’s time to get rid of the Facebook “news feed,” because it’s not news" and "Mark Zuckerberg – Dead At 32 – Denies Facebook Has Problem With Fake News" and "Facebook should hire me to audit their algorithm"

H/T to RM
For all my reviews, go here.


MV said...

I am not on Facebook, for many of these reasons.

I am on LinkedIn, mostly because of organizations requiring you to apply through LI (which I hate). There is a bias in what they show, and what they do not show, and they keep your data despite you asking them to delete (in my case an old e-mail address). They change things without your prior consent.

Twitter: not sure about a bias, because I only look on the website, and I only see what I want to see. Never used a Twitter app. I notice, however, that many on Twitter are not aware that all their shit is on internet. "I block him, but he found me again, so I am changing my name again". Or "Oh, my brother found my twitter so I blocked him". Meanwhile everyone can read everything on the twitter webpage.

Yet, maybe people advised me to join facebook. I might set up a fake account to see and test.

I suppose you know about adblockers?

David Zetland said...

The problem is not so much the ads (I use adblockers) as the distortions in the "feed" of what you see. You literally don't have any idea if anyone else is seeing the same thing. So there's no "reality"

A fake account will merely show you what FB wants to... unless you want to click all day... since The Algorithm is NOT about efficient information display.

Anonymous said...

I stayed up past my bedtime to finish Hypernormalisation. It left me wanting more, but I agree it was very good overall, and extremely interesting about the US/Syria/Libya etc. situation. I am very embarrassed & ashamed for the States; already was... Hard to believe that didn't get more airtime/attention.

Putin's grey cardinal sure is a scary/interesting/fiendishly clever guy... Pretty messy, hard to picture how this all plays out; I sure am curious.

Good call on following the incentive structure for Facebook etc., and observing the workings and effects. I believe people are discussing that topic; maybe some of it will become less ad-centric & the results less nefarious. Not holding my breath right now though!

Well, we do what we can, especially on our daily micro level. Beautiful cool and rainy day right now; good day for tea and reading.

David Zetland said...

Yes, it's scary b/c Putin, Trump et al. do NOT believe in liberalism (old definition), which more or less fucks up the less powerful in society. It's feudalism 2.0

FB is a wreck due to original sin. It's not going to change, but it may die (from people leaving). I'm not betting on that, b/c ego ("my profile!") combined with network effects ("Everyone's there!") will keep people on...

On a micro level, do what you already do: hang out with the neighbors. They are your salvation.

GG said...

Agreed, that there's something weird about reinforcing people's views to make them feel comfortable and receptive to advertising. I would say however that the pro-Trump stuff was worse in many ways though because there was a lot of it that was just flat out fabricated. Maybe some of the same on the anti-Trump side, but my (somewhat limited and anecdotal) impression during the campaign was that it was much worse on the other side.

Wasn't quite sure what you were suggesting with the "never had nukes" hyperlink. I skimmed briefly and it looked like they had some very primitive weapons program that was ongoing. Or maybe I didn't read closely enough. For example, the link you pasted had: "In 1997, Libya began receiving nuclear weapons-related aid from Dr. A.Q. Khan, the chief architect of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program and confessed proliferator of nuclear technologies to several countries of concern, including Iran andNorth Korea. This cooperation continued until fall 2003, when Khan's clandestine collaboration with these countries became public following Libya's disclosures about its efforts to build nuclear weapons. In 1997, Khan supplied Libya ..."

David Zetland said...

@GG: I agree that the pro Trump folks believed more BS. The problem was that NEITHER side was reading the other.

I read the same on Pakistani tech. Pretty painful, the way Khan tried to fuck the world for $ (and not much, but with Pak govt support). The main idea was that whatever they had was not really working, and it was dressed up as a MAJOR victory by US/UK. Check out the film :)

Anonymous said...

I quit Facebook and my life is better now

Oliver Williams said...

BBC doc HyperNormalisation is HyperNormalisation:


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