Weekly I/O #33
Content Moderation, Streisand Effect, Curiosity over Emotion, Mimetic Theory, Psychics and Weed Law
Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.
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The below is extracted from the email sent on February 21, 2022
Here’s a list of what I’m exploring and pondering this week.
1. The nearly linear relationship between the spread of content and its monetary value motivates the creator to mix speed and extremism to optimize content creation.
Article: The Platform is the Message
This article from James Grimmelmann is the required reading for the course Tech, Media & Democracy at Cornell Tech. I like how this article argued “why responsible content moderation is necessary and why responsible content moderation is impossibly hard” in such a fascinating and captivating way. I highly recommend reading the full article. Below are some excerpts from the article with some revisions.
“In the age of social media, there’s no need for spam to sell people something else once you have a bit of their attention. Their attention itself is the commodity; you can sell it back to the platform’s ad engine and let someone else worry about how to make money off an ad running against Peppa Pig crying at the dentist.”
“Is it necessary to report people doing stupid or ridiculous things like eating Tide Pods? The better question is whether to report on it now or risk waiting too long. Being early in the cascade as an idea goes viral gives you a chance to put your spin and your brand on it while being just a few links later dooms you to obscurity.”
“An idea that motivates people to share it will thrive and spread. This is the basic insight of memetics, which is universally true since people could have and share ideas. Essentially, everyone who creates for the web has internalized the basics of optimizing what they make so that it will spread socially.”
“Put virality, speed, extremism, monetization, and algorithmic recommendation together, and you have an optimized system for automated content creation.”
“Logan Paul achieved YouTube superstardom by fashioning an identity based on pushing the bounds of taste; asking him to behave like a decent human being is like asking a terrier to calm down.”
“We might be wondering why YouTubers like Logan Paul will post certain content or why Media websites like Fox will keep posting conspiracy theories. All of them do so in an intensely competitive media landscape driven by the dynamics of virality. If Logan Paul stops acting dumb and outré, his viewers will find some other young dude-bro who will. If Fox stops pushing deep state conspiracy theories, its viewers will switch to Breitbart.”
2. Streisand Effect: The attempt to suppress information can increase awareness of that information.
Article: The Platform is the Message
According to Wikipedia, “The Streisand effect is a phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of increasing awareness of that information, often via the Internet.”
This term was first coined for the American singer Barbra Streisand trying to repress something she didn’t want other people to see online, ended up making it be seen by way more people.
For online content, the line between advocacy and parody is usually vague since online culture, or to be more specific, meme culture, is awash in layers of irony. There’s no clear way to tell whether any memetic content is entirely sincere or entirely ironic on the Internet. We cannot find anything that’s a pure exemplar of doing something entirely unironically or any critique of something that is not also partially an advertisement for them.
3. Can we create a social media platform that predates curiosity instead of emotion?
This is a question asked by a guest in the course Tech, Media & Democracy at Cornell Tech. Is Curius or Medium in a promising direction?
Thanks to Jenny Shih and Yueh Han Huang for recommending me Curius!
4. Mimetic Theory: We desire mainly according to the desire of the other because we don’t know what to desire and, therefore, we imitate other’s.
Article: What is Mimetic Theory?
I first learned Mimetic Theory from the article Peter Thiel’s Religion, which stated that Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory forms the bedrock of Thiel’s worldview.
Girard states that human desire is not a linear process that a person just autonomously desires an inherently desirable object. Instead, he sees the world as a theater of envy. We don’t know what to desire. Therefore, we imitate other people’s desires, like mimes.
This mimetic nature can be a shortcut for learning since we can rely on those models to help us understand who and what to desire. However, it can also lead to conflicts and envy because the models might soon become our competitors for the same desire or object.
Therefore, Peter Thiel suggested that we should be careful who we copy. If we want to follow a role model, find somebody in a different stage of life that we won’t compete with. In David Perell’s words, “If you’re going to model a famous writer, pick a dead one such as Tolstoy or Hemingway”.
In the book Zero to One, Thiel applied Mimetic Theory to business by saying companies should avoid competition and always seek differentiation and monopoly. Hence, “All Happy Companies Are Different.” He also uses the idea to describe how Facebook gained users: “Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly Mimetic.”
You can look up the article, What is Mimetic Theory?, to find a more detailed explanation of the theory, including its three stages: Mimetic desire, Scapegoating mechanism, and Revelation.
5. An online shop employs psychics to “find a wide selection of your lost weed and drop it off at your home” in a state where marijuana is legal, but the delivery of it isn’t.
Article: Conjuring Maine’s Clairvoyant Kush
Cannabis delivery isn’t legal in Maine. Therefore, a shop circumvented the marijuana laws by stating the following on their website.
“We have Psychics roaming all over Portland communicating with their deity, their spirit guides, and having religious moments of clarity. We can guarantee to find your lost weed! Just login to this site, and select the cannabis or cannabis products you lost, and give us your address. We will find your weed and get it back to you asap.”
As described in the article, “There’s a lot of text on the site, some of it in capital letters, all of it redolent of stoner metaphysics.”. “The comments page is full of questions and hope.” “Makes more sense if you’re high, maybe.”
I seriously don’t know which is funnier, the regulation or the article.
That’s it. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy it. If you would like to receive the content every Sunday, sign up below 😎