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How to be online right now
On navigating the 'algorithmic fog of war'
I wasn’t planning on sending something this week. But on Friday, in an attempt to stay sane, I incidentally found myself amassing a link list on how to be online right now.
There isn’t a singular or correct way to consume awful events from afar. But prior to the last couple of weeks, I had assumed there was a growing awareness of the ways social media doesn’t just serve as the infrastructure for the conversation, but actually shapes the discourse itself. And that the men who are responsible for running it are cavalier at best and unhinged at worst. Now, I’m less sure that’s as widely-known as I previously thought.
If this newsletter is about living a sane life in chaotic times, then a discussion about how to do that online, in our feeds, in our DMs — without totally tuning out and hardening our hearts — seems apt.
I want to reiterate that this may look different for everyone. Of course, there are people in my feeds who have identities or personal histories tied to either side of this horrific conflict. The pain I sense in their posts is palpable and warranted, and my compassion extends to all of them. But outside of those broadly-defined identity groups, I think a lot of us are grappling with this relatively new expectation: That to know about what’s going on in the world means to publicly state nuanced opinions about events as they unfold.
I would date this societal expectation back to the summer of 2020. But as someone who engaged in this kind of behavior professionally for the entirety of my twenties as an extremely online journalist, I feel like I already know a lot of the pitfalls of it. (RIP to the period of my life when I used to think in 140 character takes.)
I’ve written before, at the start of the Ukraine war, about how I personally think it’s okay not to post at times like this — which, I’ll note, is not the same thing as ignoring what’s going on in the world. I personally can’t help but grapple with the inherent issues of the platforms themselves: What their for-profit structures and the men who run them try and steer me to view, interact with, and post — and more importantly — what to think and feel.
My goal here isn’t to convince anyone of the right way to navigate these times. But the past couple of weeks have made it clear to me that we still lack an adequate understanding of what we are really doing when we post online through traumatic world events from an intellectual, emotional, and psychological point of view. I hope some of the links and excerpted quotes below shed some light on that.
How social media abdicated responsibility for the news, The New Yorker, Kyle Chayka
If social media is no longer much use as a source of verified real-time information, it has remained a battleground for driving public opinion. [...] There is a kind of bitter absurdity to the way users have been left to determine what is accurate on their own, without the guidance of the platforms. If there is indeed an algorithmic fog of war, the tech companies seem loath to assume any responsibility for lifting it.
How do I use the internet now? Search Engine,interviews Ezra Klein
That thing you were just saying: That you have this sneaking feeling that the people around you aren’t just using Twitter, they are becoming Twitter. It has somehow colonized the way they think, they think like Twitter, they talk like Twitter […]
These mediums change you, the fundamental way they affect society is that while you’re looking at the content, you’re actually absorbing the rules and structure and ways of communicating and relating of the medium. And it is that set of underlying rules — the way the medium acts upon you — is much much more important.
This is what an unmoderated internet looks like, Garbage Day,
When Musk bought Twitter a year ago, I naively believed that users, especially irl important ones, would react to the increasing noise on their feeds by simply leaving the platform. And, if my own following tab is an indication, many have. But what has actually happened is much more dangerous. Instead of X dissolving into a digital backwater for divorced guys with NFT debt, it has, instead, continued to remain at the top of the digital funnel while also being 4chan-levels of rotten. It is still being used to process current events in “real time” even though it does not have the tools, nor the leadership necessary to handle that responsibility. The inmates are running the asylum and there is nothing on the horizon to convince that that will get better.
Why has social media made it impossible to follow the Israel-Hamas war, Offline Podcast, Jon Favreau and Max Fisher
I have been writing about Israel Palestine for a long time. I think sometimes people overstate how complicated it is as a dodge — I believe very strongly that the occupation is overwhelmingly the driving force in the conflict. But it’s hard to appropriately thread the right moral needles of acknowledging things on either side and to convey things in a way that is thoughtful and nuanced and accurate.
I’m not surprised and I don’t blame people for the fact that the Crossfit trainer or the yoga teacher puts out a statement and it’s not the most nuanced or it gets things wrong. That’s fine. But you shouldn’t have to post it in the first place. And I think that is also contributing to the misinformation because we’re getting so much of our understanding of [the conflict] from people who [don’t know that much about it].
I don’t have to post about my outrage. Neither do you. The New York Times, Elizabeth Spiers
There’s a facile version of taking a stand on social media that generates righteous back patting but reduces complex issues to a simple yes or no. Taking simplistic stands can also lead to twisting words. Concern for Palestinians is portrayed as support for Hamas or hatred toward Israel or Jews in general. Anger about Hamas’s deadly attacks on Israeli citizens — or any mention of antisemitism — is portrayed as denigrating the dignity of all Palestinian lives. This kind of thinking is deeply unserious and further fuels hostilities, warping nuanced positions into extremism and mistaking tweet-length expressions of outrage for brave action in the face of atrocity.
Tending, Terms of Endearment,
But who benefits? Always the question. Who benefits? Yes, we are more informed. Yes, many of us may be calling our senators – and when has that ever made any difference at all, when I wanted to vote for not a single one of my senators […] Yes, we are all joined together in angst and fury, but – where? On a platform that makes tech billionaires even richer, that confuses a James Baldwin quote going viral with some sort of action or change, and that leaves 98% of people feeling far shittier and more hopeless and full of rage when they leave it than when they entered?
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