Ed­i­tor’s let­ter

The Week (US) - - 3 - Mark Gimein

How you whip up ha­tred and dis­trust has never been much of a se­cret. More than 50 years ago, Jacques El­lul, in his land­mark book Pro­pa­ganda, wrote, “Those who read the press of their group and lis­ten to the ra­dio of their group are con­stantly re­in­forced in their al­le­giance. They learn more and more that their group is right, that its ac­tions are jus­ti­fied; thus their be­liefs are strength­ened.” Sub­sti­tute “tweets,” and “memes” and you have so­cial me­dia to­day, in which an al­go­rithm feeds you the in­for­ma­tion that you are likely to click on—be­cause you have clicked or retweeted or re­posted some­thing just like it (see Tech­nol­ogy). The tech­niques that once worked on TV and ra­dio have been su­per­charged by mi­cro-tar­get­ing. This is not merely an echo cham­ber: It’s a pin­ball ma­chine, into which ma­nip­u­la­tors cyn­i­cally drop memes—the Black Pan­thers sup­port the Democrats!—to bounce around and am­plify.

The gov­ern­ment of the United States was con­structed, as James Madi­son wrote, “to break and con­trol the vi­o­lence of fac­tion.” Now fac­tion is as­cen­dant, and it is the union that is break­ing. There are no more big tents. Cen­trist Repub­li­cans such as Bob Corker and Jeff Flake have quit pol­i­tics; cen­trist red-state Democrats Claire Mc­Caskill and Heidi Heitkamp didn’t sur­vive Tues­day’s vote. In Congress, it be­comes harder for elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives to do any­thing but vote in lock­step with their par­ties. When Don­ald Trump was elected, it was said that he had “bro­ken” the Repub­li­can Party. The op­po­site is true: The par­ties are stronger than ever. Ex­cept now party loy­alty is en­forced by your own friends and ac­quain­tances, who will make sure you don’t step out of line on Twit­ter or Face­book. That’s some­thing au­to­crats and dem­a­gogues of the past could only dream of. How else can the dark pow­ers of so­cial me­dia be ma­nip­u­lated and mis­used? In the com­ing two years of di­vided gov­ern­ment, we will most likely find out. Man­ag­ing ed­i­tor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.