(2020-05-15) Doctorow Qanon Stigmergy

Cory Doctorow on QAnon. Which raises a different question: why is it so easy to find people who want to believe in conspiracies. My answer: because so many of the things that have traumatized so many people ARE conspiracies. (Conspiracy Theory, CultureWar)

Why is belief in conspiracies is surging in the first place? The main explanation – a subtext running through LaFrance's excellent piece – is that algorithmic persuasion is to blame. I am very skeptical of this account.

First, because the best evidence we have for Big Tech's power to perform these persuasive miracles comes from Big Tech's own marketing puffery.

What Big Tech does VERY well, however, is find people. It can find people who are thinking of buying a fridge (a diffuse, hard-to-locate cohort) by targeting people who've shopped for fridges or kitchens, or perused reviews. This isn't a persuasive miracle, it's just spying. (stigmergic)

Likewise, Big Tech can help people with fringe ideas locate each other. This is true irrespective of how much you like those fringe ideas: it doesn't matter if the idea is #BlackLivesMatter and gender is a spectrum or white nationalism and the Earth is flat.

I believe what we call "persuasion" is primarily "targeting." (Ad Targeting)

Which raises a different question: why is it so easy to find people who want to believe in conspiracies. My answer: because so many of the things that have traumatized so many people ARE conspiracies. (Conspiracy Theory, CultureWar)

In a world of constant real conspiracy scandals that destroy lives and the planet, conspiracy theories take on real explanatory power. This is beautifully discussed in Anna Merlan's 2019 book, "Republic of Lies."

Another consequence of making it easier to find people is that groups can coalesce around loosely defined principles. Pre-internet, the high cost of group-forming meant that you would be wasting a lot of effort by grouping with people who disagreed with you on fundamentals.

People who criticized Occupy for the lack of a crisply defined program missed this point: by refusing to narrowly define its cause, Occupy could be a big tent.

Q's nonsensical utterances become an oracle that different kinds of conspirators can project their own fears and aspirations onto, creating multiple, irreconcilable interpretations for these pronunciations. (Empty Vessel)

Q is both a rehash of historical conspiracy pathologies and utterly of this moment, then. It's a phildickian phenomenon, a conspiracy whose gospel reads like the cryptic notes I get from stalkers who are having terrible, paranoid hallucinations

One of the milestones in my understanding of conspiracists was this outstanding interview with a leading Flat Earther by the Oh No Ross and Carrie podcast: he means that the community bonds and his ability to have high stature (status) in it are satisfying and that makes it feel true.


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