How “social media” makes propagandists of us all

Crowdsourcing propaganda

On propaganda, pt. 2

laughlyn (johan eddebo)
Dec 12

Someone stated that Western liberal democracies are really governed through “consent farming”. I thought that was a brilliant way of putting it.

Our societies are obviously not democratic in any sense akin to the self-governing Athenian ἐκκλησία of 450 BC. But that’s generally not how we see the world. We tend to believe that we’re as free as can be. We feel we live in that city on the hill, painstakingly erected high above the dark millennia of tyranny and arbitrary authority through the blood and toil of the heroes of the Enlightenment, sacrificed on the altar of liberty.

Yeah, it’s very much a myth. We’re still ruled, yet in quite rational and technically efficient ways. Industrial societies are under the dominion of massive administrative bureaucracies, disciplinary institutions and media apparatuses that by various means generate the public’s consent for, and collaboration in, policies which ultimately reflect the interests of the ruling hierarchies.

It’s not a conspiracy or anything. It’s just the way complex, hierarchical societies tend to get organized over time.

Collaborative propaganda

Obviously, any sort of social organization will not only strive towards the consent of the governed, but their active participation. This is as true in egalitarian hunter-gather societies as it was in Nazi Germany. And the phenomenon of horizontal propaganda where people simply instruct each other in the dominant narratives and mandated modes of behaviour, can, speaking generally, be seen in myriad situations all over social reality.

But today, the consent farming game is at another level entirely. The contemporary mediatic situation has important qualitative differences from any conceivable study circle, teambuilding hike or discussion group, and which affords it forms of leverage that I think are entirely novel to any human society.

Essentially, I would argue that the social media universe is such a fundamental game-changer that traditional forms of propaganda have become almost irrelevant other than as auxiliaries to the former.

To begin with, we now have a situation where almost all information we have is somehow filtered through social media. Either it’s transmitted to us via those networks, directly or indirectly, or it’s tailored and shaped to maximize dissemination and interaction in such channels.

But the really important factor is how social media basically presses all of us into service as unpaid propagandists. Not only our re-sharing of news articles or explicit comments, but every single “like” and interaction actually factors into all of this, generating data for refining the impact of the information transmitted. One aspect of this relates to the radical flattening out of social relationships and communication. In the social media context of our day, we are basically reduced to our personas. We don’t really interact with other human individuals, but rather with their brand, with the constructed identity that is used to represent them, and which emerges due the structure of the social media setting.

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