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Toxic Kobe Derangement Syndrome is Newest Internet Coronavirus
The callousness of the Internet was on full display in the aftermath of the news of Kobe Bryant’s death. While everyone else mourned the death of the basketball star and those who died with him⏤the Internet went into a clickbait frenzy exploiting conspiracy theories and harmful memes in an all too predictable echo chamber storm.
The disgusting behavior included Epstein and Clinton fashioned conspiracy theories that he was killed instead of perishing in an unfortunate accident. There was even one theme that callously conjectured about faking death.
Also appearing on the Internet was anger bait; that raft of issues designed to trigger people’s emotions that is the province of robots designed to generate trackable traffic leading to clicks and views that capture big data statistics and ad serves.
Resurrecting “Kobe the rapist” was one of the most tasteless ones. It was clearly designed to trigger #metoo obsessed persons to get an endorphin rush from the moment. And judging from how many times it’s appeared on social media, there are clearly many people who couldn’t care less about the crash, only about how the news of the day can reinforce their pre-existing prejudices.
It’s not just one special interest group that fell prey to such exploitation. Memes were abundant that Kobe’s death doesn’t matter in comparison to military deaths from helicopter crashes was another attempt to steal the moment from sorrow and turn it in to a dopamine rush that appeared on the Internet.
Oh come on! Remember your heart already! Dying in a crash is a terrible thing whether it’s in a Sikorsky hitting a hillside in Calabasas, California, a Boeing 737 going down over Tehran, or a Chinook hit by a golden BB hovering above a mountaintop in Afghanistan. In those last few seconds before life ends in a fireball, it’s that story of humans knowing that they’ll never see their loved ones again that matters.
By the end of the day, the out of control Internet storm on social media rivaled the mainstream media storm attempting to cover the helicopter crash.
This stuff is bullshit! It’s theft of the common threads of our humanity. It’s the mechanical callousness of McLuhan “the medium is the message” technology segmenting audiences into exploitable purchase intention segments.
This “bot” world has nothing to do with mourning a death. It is designed to exploit people’s feelings of confusion in any conveniently useful moment for business, political and other nefarious purposes. It is where the technology of the “Surveillance Economy” has taken us.
And it’s wrong!
It’s a very sad statement of where the callousness of the Internet has taken American Society that so many people feel entitled to hide behind the anonymity of their keyboards while having fun at the expense of others. There is very little happening in this world anymore that the Internet does not twist into fabrications and narratives. The facts don’t matter. Only how much of a jerk you can be and get noticed with likes and followers to feel important that matters. It’s all about substance less influencing. In a word, garbage.
Observing this technologically, the Internet social media systems are not very good at corralling these robots and trolls whenever these Internet storms erupt. In the battle of algorithm versus algorithm, the noisemakers clearly have the upper hand. We have an intellectual contagion management system which is purely reactive and ultimately still depends on the human audience rein back into reality.
Unfortunately, the human audience isn’t all that good at recognizing real from fake very well. Moreover, Americans are not really very good at intuitively recognizing that they are being played buy a robot or troll in real time. The storms depend on the gullibility of ordinary people behind keyboards thinking something is funny or emotional, then propagating the click-bait.
The bottom line is that Americans are gullible and easily exploited by the Internet. Yeah that statement should bother you if you’ve ever passed on one of these harmful memes. We are the problem!
We are also the first line of defense against this kind of garbage. These exploitation programs exist because people haven’t adapted to immunizing themselves from them. But, it’s not hard to thwart this noise. Think about the following three simple points.
First, be suspicious of everything you see on the Internet. The bottom line is 99% what exists on the Internet is fabricated. The simple rule is if what you just read makes you feel even the slightest tug in your emotions, be suspicious that you are being played. Make the time to research what you just saw before you decide to do anything else.
The simple pause before you react in a knee jerk manner can help cut down on 90% of the noise that is on the Internet. That’s how being the first line of defense works.
Second, when you do figure out something is trying to play you, don’t react. Just let the garbage drop on the floor and die. Don’t repeat it. It’s perfectly ok to gloss over things. We don’t have to be Pavlovian animals blindly repeating endless stimulus-response cycles like lab specimens. We can make choices.
Remember that the purpose of any bug or virus or meme is to propagate itself. Mission failure comes when it does not propagate. It takes humans saying this is not worth my time to pass on to make that happen. Our mission is to be part of that solution that causes the propagation to fail.
Third, Take the time to seek out the source of where these damaging memes and messages come from. And then, block them. Cutting off avenues for propagation at the grassroots level will slowly but surely choke off the economics that these robots and trolls are attempting to exploit.
Yes, it will be slow work to undo a vector of societal damage that has been years in the making. Yes of course they will pop up in other places. But by cutting off the ones you know about you can contribute to platform algorithms learning to recognize these harmful elements on the Internet sooner and create technological solutions to tamp their presence on the net down in a more expeditious manner.
This is important for the first line of defense humans to help make the second line of defense technologists better able to get the Internet back to what we all want it to be. I think it’s a human endeavor worth our while. It means we become the masters of the machines again.
Dennis Santiago is an author and commentator on national policy and global stability issues. His subject matter expertise was developed during the Cold War as a strategic warfare systems analyst, missile defense architect, and arms control analyst. He is the author of the US Imperfect Defense Theory of Strategic Missile Defense. Dennis has worked on conventional warfare, nuclear warfare, and asymmetric warfare. His expertise includes combat aircraft, ordnance, electronic warfare, command and control, campaign design, and game theory.