But 5G doesn't give you cancer. It won't make you sick. And...god, I am getting stupider just thinking about typing this, coronavirus is not a false-flag op to disguise the illnesses that 5G is secretly creating.
The reason I have to mention that is that the conspiracyverse is full of that specific theory, and it's inspiring people to COMMIT ARSON and torch 5G towers.
In the wake of multiple attacks on 5G towers, Youtube has announced changes to its moderation guidelines. It will allow 5G conspiracy theories, just not ones that (oh god my fingers are seizing up from the stupid) link 5G with coronavirus.
Youtube gets blamed for spreading conspiracies but that's not the whole story. Youtube - Big Tech in general - is a machine for finding people, much more than it is a machine for convincing people.
Youtube is not a mind-control ray that bypasses viewers' critical faculties.
5G conspiracy theories are new, but Flat Earth conspiracies are not, nor is antivax. These have been around for a long, long time. Even a cursory perusal of the arguments for these conspiracies reveals that they have not gotten better, even as they've gained traction.
If the same arguments are attracting more adherents, then one of two things is going on. Either:
1. Youtube is a mind-control ray that can turn rational people into believers in facially absurd ideas that have failed for decades, or
2. The number of people to whom these ideas seem plausible has grown and/or Youtube has made it more efficient to reach those people.
I think it's 2. I think that the rise of conspiratorial thinking is connected most closely to a rise in actual conspiracies.
Not elaborate flying saucer conspiracies, but everyday ones like the Sacklers conspiring to get rich by lying about the safety of opioids, or officials covering up for their pals like Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein.
Conspiracies to ignore the evidence about Flint's water, or the failures of Universal Credit or to pretend private equity funds are anything but engines for turning productive companies into mangled wreckages while enriching plutes:
Why do people believe in public health conspiracies, from antivax to 5G? Well, maybe because public health authorities spent two decades ignoring the opioid crisis in order to protect ultrarich opioid profiteers.
Maybe they doubt journal articles because major journal publishers have repeatedly published fake journals through their marketing divisions that allowed pharma companies to pay to publish unsubstantiated studies.
Maybe they don't believe in their doctors' advice because their doctors accept a continuous stream of payments from pharma companies, and then prescribe in ways that fatten their bottom lines.
Maybe they don't trust regulators because they sign off on procedures that kill people, despite a lack of evidence for their safety AND a wealth of evidence about their risks:
One of the best books I read in 2019 was Anna Merlan's Republic of Lies, a history of conspiratorial thinking in America and a look at the rise of conspiracism in the 21st century:
Merlan describes how conspiracists aren't ignorant, but rather lavishly misinformed. UFO conspiracists can go chapter-and-verse on aerospace conspiracies, of which there are so. many. including, most recently, the 737 Max scandal.
Antivaxers know tons about opioid coverups and other medical malpractice. People who believe that the levees were dynamited during Katrina to drown black neighborhoods and spare white ones know all about when that actually happened in Tupelo, MS.
Susceptibility to conspiratorialism arises when someone is exposed to actual conspiracies, and trauma. And while both have been abundant during the neoliberal era, coronavirus is peak trauma and peak conspiracy.
Just think of the spectacle of official inaction, combined with official calls for all the old people to die, combined with the annihilation of huge swathes of the economy, combined with a stream of revelations about corruption and profiteering in the response.
No wonder so many people are primed to believe in conspiracies at this moment, and so maddened with grief and anxiety that they take rash - and foolish - action.
Which brings me back to what Youtube is doing.
Youtube is not a mind-control ray, it's a people-finding machine. That's because advertisers need people-finding machines. The median person buys <1 fridge/lifetime, so it's really hard to find people thinking of buying fridges.
That's why fridge ads appear on highways near airports: "People who fly have money, people need money to buy fridges." Those ads have 0.00000000000000000001% conversion rates.
Targeting ads to people who've searched for refrigerator reviews can make them thousands of times more effective, and even if the new rate is only 0.000000000001%, that's massive improvement for fridge advertisers. YT is ad-supported so it is good at finding people.
Ad-tech companies make two claims, though: the first is that they know where to find your customers. The second is that they can convince them of things that are otherwise unsupportable.
This was Cambridge Analytica's pitch: not that they would find racists and tell them about Trump, but that they would make decent people into Trump voters.
There's some narrow truth to this Running ads that tell lies (especially harmful ones) is often illegal. At the very least, it can mire you in scandal. Targeting allows you to place secret ads: ads whose content is only seen by people who won't narc you out. That gives targeted ads a persuasive advantage that billboards can't have.
Finding people who want to believe lies and lying to them is not mind-control.
Because everyone in the entire history of the world who'd claimed to have invented a mind-control ray was a fraud, from NLPers and PUAs, to Mkultra and the Cultural Revolution.
Back to conspiracies, Youtube, secrecy and people-finding.
There are lots of things wrong with Youtube (spying, monopolization, and its hospitality to copyfraud and censorship), but people-finding and spying are both double-edged swords.
People-finding is how fringe ideas accumulate adherents, yes. Some of those are terrible, like "scientific racism." Some are laudable, like the rise of trans identity.
Privacy is how lies are spun, but it's also how truths are whispered before they can be spoken aloud.
Secrets like "I believe interracial marriage should be legal" or "cannabis isn't harmful" or "gender is not a binary."
There are lots of things we should do to fix Youtube and tech, but on balance, finding people who share your ideas is a force for good.
Debunking false conspiratorial beliefs is important, but not as important as ending actual conspiracies among wealthy and powerful people to corrupt our political and economic system to enrich themselves regardless of the consequences to the rest of us.
Fighting conspiracism is like fighting a wildfire. When the town is on fire, you have to put it out. But if you want to keep your town from catching fire again, you have to eliminate the fuel that causes it to burn, clear out the brush.
The problem with locating the problem with Youtube - instead of seeing Youtube and its monopoly as a consequence of policies that promote inequality and monopolism - is that it's just fighting blazes, not preventing them.
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