Saturday, June 30, 2018

Buzzfeed "Yelp, The Red Hen, And How All Tech Platforms Are Now Pawns In The Culture War "

Over on Trip Advisor, the backlash was so intense that the site chose to temporarily freeze reviews for the restaurant. On Twitter, the Red Hen — as well as other DC-area restaurants with the same name — are weathering a wave of angry, trolling tweets from conservatives, including the president himself. A small subset of conspiracy theorists have even begun to bandy about reckless, unsubstantiated Pizzagate-style claims that the restaurant is run, in part, by a sex-offender, and they've posted that person’s personal information on Twitter.

None of this behavior is unusual in 2018. Just last week, LinkedIn, Medium, and the programmers' social network GitHub were embroiled in an online campaign to post the personal information of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in response to the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" child separation policy at the border. Similarly, Twitter found itself in the position of censoring links to a national news organization after the publication posted the private phone number of White House adviser, Stephen Miller — the reported architect of the zero tolerance policy.

Though the brigading of review sites and doxxing behavior isn’t exactly new, the speed and coordination is; one consequence of a never-ending information war is that everyone is already well versed in their specific roles. And across the internet, it appears that technology platforms, both big and small, must grapple with the reality that they are now powerful instruments in an increasingly toxic political and cultural battle. After years attempting to dodge notions of bias at all costs, Silicon Valley’s tech platforms are up against a painful reality: They need to expect and prepare for the armies of the culture war and all the uncomfortable policing that inevitably follows.

We live in an era in which social media permits horizontal propaganda to be created at will and distributed as quickly as attentionally possible, using the term attention" in the most slipshod possible sense.  It's less important that the situation described be true than to feel true and this can be applicable to those who sympathies could be red or blue.  We can now agitate and disseminate polemics through the internet that would take much longer in earlier deacdes by whisper networks and word of mouth. 
If the narrative you live by is red or blue than neighborly respect and decency are not really on the table, are they?  Sure, you can tell yourself that you're neighborly and think the best of people in the abstract but if your blood boils at what "those" people do whether Republican or Democrat and there's no polemic too scabrous to publish or retweet or link to then you're part of that problem, too.  I am afraid I am no less a pessimist about politics now than I was about eighteen years ago.  Back when the options were Bush and Gore it seemed this was the level with which we were stuck.  It may be local things can change but at a national or transnational level it seems like things have been bought and paid for already. 
In keeping with the theme for a moment noted in another post about pothole removal apps and the homeless, tech utopians need to smell the coffee about how technology gets used.  Cult formation is what culture formation is, cult formation is the baseline of human socialization.  By only deploying a term like "cult" for the social cohesion processes around communities with ideals we distrust we forget that why we call it a "cult" is because the culture-forming dynamics for "them" can rival the cohesion we would like to see for "us". 
If, for instance, former Mars Hill people want to fit into the Seattle milieu and champion the right causes now is not really the time for them to go all in for blue if they thought Mark was red.  That's just changing cultic allegiance without addressing the cultic heart.  If you want to break free of the cultish dynamics of a place like Mars Hill that isn't likely to come about with just changing which flag you're waving.  The flag-waving part is itself the problem.  If this world is not our home and we are ambassadors and exiles in eschatological terms then that should inform how we engage or embrace movements seeking power ... if we do that. 
Mars Hill was a church culture dominated by a utopian embrace of technology as a mode of socialization.  So when the shunnings happened it was just a localized example of a dynamic some journalists are trying to find a way to describe as it emerges in other contexts.  What happened at Mars Hill can happen about The Red Hen, for instance.  It would be a mistake to think that any team is immune to such a set of dynamics merely by dint of formal allegiance. 

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