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The “Hivemind” effect of the internet – Cameron Gosley

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The internet is a major force for good in our society. It increases access to all sorts of knowledge and provides an outlet for content creators to be exposed to the wider world on platforms with reach that would never have been thought possible before it. When humanity’s free will is factored in, however, a vast majority of the time people will ultimately seek out things that they want to read or watch, and things that confirm what they believe in. This can lead to people mentally over-estimating the number of people in society who agree with them on any issue. Primary propagators of this behaviour include forums, as well as internet spaces as innocent-looking as your Facebook News Feed. Ultimately, this can have quite negative consequences for people, especially if they’re unaware of the effect of the content they’re digesting on the internet.

If you’re angry and disillusioned, chances are that someone on the internet has felt the exact same feelings that you have, and has made a page on the internet for it. Unapologetic pirate that hates nothing more that the RIAA and MPAA? There’s a news service online for you. Is a round earth really just a conspiracy made up by NASA? No problem, these guys really exist! Want to smash the state? Well, these guys might just be your new best buds. No matter how obscure or deranged the viewpoint is, more likely than not, there’s a community on-line where you’d fit right at home. Sure, there’s clubs in real life for strange things too, like speaking made up languages, or broadcasting on short wave radio, however, the internet provides a meeting place for people with less savoury interests. The veil of anonymity on internet has the ability to push the morally grey into the public view. Extremists on both side of the political spectrum will egg each other on, and may result in clashes being made public, with both side believing that they have the upper hand in public appeal, as we saw in last year’s United Patriots Front rallies and their sometimes violent clashes with opponents. When it most gets on my nerves, is when ultra-progressives from sites like tumblr go way over the top and start vitriolic campaigns, which may occasionally cross over into real life, about minor infractions against their world view. All in the name of ‘Social Justice’, of course. As a result of the echo-chamber-like nature of online communities, members of them may see themselves as having more public traction and influence than they do, which can result in bad outcomes in the on- and offline spaces.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m naturally biased. I think that all people are, but how much they accept this reality varies. As I look through my News Feed, of all the politically-related pages I’ve liked, there’s only about two that post articles and photos that I disagree with. Facebook has a very echo-chambery effect. Profiles are carefully curated and the onus is on the user to actively ‘like’ content that they want to see in their feeds. It’s very rare, I’d say, to see something that challenges your perceptions anywhere on your Facebook News Feed. The effect is heightened if you remove all your friends who have the misfortune of liking politicians that become the target of public ire (e.g. The campaign to remove your friends who like Donald Trump), which only amplifies the silence of anybody you disagree with. This echo-chamber type of website design is one of the major reasons I don’t use Reddit. I find that the up/down mentality only has the effect of silencing all opposition, while promoting a majority view – thus discouraging any discussion or opinions from outside the norm. The same thing happens in the Youtube comments, whereby all favourable comments are thumbed up, and vice versa.

So, what’s the effect of this hivemind mentality that is so prevalent on many spaces on the internet? The main effect is stifling of debate. When I look at the comments section on any article on the Guardian that comments on social issues, the comment section is invariably a pit of left-wing self-congratulatory ‘discussion’, or more like an agreement. Most websites of News Limited publications suffer from the same problem, except on the Right. So, where can you go on the internet if you want to see both sides textually biff it out? Well, unfortunately it’s your responsibility to find counter-views, as it’s not often that you’ll find both sides from one source on the internet, however, there are some, like the Conversation that endeavour to do their best in this regard. Another effect, is the potential for radicalisation of views to occur. If all you’re fed, media-wise all day is stories from one political view, your ideals will slowly start to conform to this view more and more. This can be seen in the unfortunate case of Elliot Rodger, whose misogyny was radicalised by consuming views from people in closed, misogynistic communities online. These sorts of communities have also caused a proliferation in pedophilic content and neo-nazi ideas online, as well as being recruiting grounds for terrorist groups like ISIS – as there is nobody in these communities who are actively against these ideas. This is why the hive-mind nature of the internet is so dangerous.

Grouping together is natural, it is human. The more easily accessible the internet is, the wider audience a non-mainstream view or collective will achieve. It’s imperative that you challenge your ideas, not just to be better informed, but also to be aware of reasons for and against a topic, and why people feel the way they do, and how much of the population thinks the same way. Do one thing each day that scares you – Think for yourself.

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The aftermath of the Libspill by Cameron Gosley

Cameron has shared his post and this link with us. Thank you, Cameron, for adding a political perspective to our blog.

The aftermath of the Libspill – Cameron Gosley (guest blogger)

Now that most of the fuss has died down over the loss of our 28th Prime Minister, it might be worth seeing what changes Turnbull can implement, or whether it is a case of “Same shit different smell”, if you’ll mind the turn of phrase. Two of the main constraints after the change of leadership will be how much Turnbull will be able to shift the policies of the Government, as well as how far the coalition parties will bend to accommodate him.

Turnbull would be wise to pick his battles, as although he’s seen more favourably in the eyes of the Australian people, he still has to rely on the support of the party. We’re already seen him bite the bullet on issues such as climate change, sticking to the Direct Action policy (despite previously saying that he “wouldn’t lead a government that’s not as committed to effective action on climate change as [he] is”), gay marriage, as well as the newly dredged-up republic issue. The Labor party was quick to show this supposed selling out from the get go at the first question time of the new Prime Minister, however Turnbull is probably well aware that he has very limited political capital, especially among the right faction with players mainly in the Senate, such as Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz, as well as the Nationals, who despite being initially reluctant to jump back into a coalition agreement, were seemingly placated by a new ministry. The effect of this limitation of capital means that it is more difficult for Turnbull, to make moves on issues on which he is more progressive.

With the new agreement, the Nationals may be able to be the tail wagging the dog for the first time in a long time. The air of illegitimacy that surrounded the Gillard and Rudd II Prime Ministerships has given the Nationals a bit of bargaining power, especially since their favoured candidate lost out. The Nationals are looking to remain relevant in an increasingly more cosmopolitan Australia. While heartlands still remain, they’re increasingly at risk of being knocked out by Liberals and Greens. Barnaby Joyce, one of the most charismatic Nationals, is one of the driving factors of the party in the current political environment, however, with his inevitable takeover of the party once again stopped by Warren Truss’ decision to contest the next election, The Nats are going to be trying to co-operate while providing a point of difference from the Liberals once again.

Leadership challenging is a fairly new trend in Australian politics. Billy Hughes kicked it off, when he challenged the larrikin Gorton in ’71, and even though Gorton was an average prime minister, Hughes was a shocker. Challengers have never succeeded their predecessors’ popularity, with none in history yet being able to win a second election. However, Turnbull may be able to turn this around yet. With a stunning opinion poll, Turnbull has appeared to have turned the party around in a way that history would not have thought possible. With Labor’s tactic of cheap shots, as well as Bill Shorten seemingly not being able to adjust to Turnbull’s snappier pace, the public opinion of Labor may now be irreparable before the election next year. Labor also has the issue of the Greens to deal with: providing a point of difference as well as trying to capture the centre as well as avoid leakage to the left.

This is the most unstable time in Australian Political History. Even the short-lived Prime-Ministers of the post-federation era had longer political lifespans than Prime Ministers in the last five years. John Howard was the last Prime Minster to serve a full term. Hopefully Turnbull will be able to retake control of the country and deliver a stable leadership, as well as trying to put an end to the current knifing culture in Australian politics for the long-term sake of the country.