“Twitter’s gamification bears some resemblance with echo chambers and moral outrage porn…”

“A medium is not something neutral—it does something to people.”

-Marshall McLuhan

I was on Nolan this morning to discuss an Irish News story about a 29 year old candidate standing for the DUP called Tyler Hoey. It featured some awful FB quotes (which I won’t repeat here) from just three years ago favourably mentioning the UDA.

The paper notes that Ian Paisley “previously said” he took action to make sure the posts were removed, an apology made and “a real life lesson learnt”. This suggests this is an old controversy, re-warmed because the fellah is now standing for election.

He’ll have to live with the quotes now being rebroadcast (no one made him say such awful things), and suspect (or at least hope for all our sakes) that the judgement from the voters will be appropriately harsh. I fear not though.

Because something else about this story makes me uncomfortable. It’s the way we get played by social media platforms we barely understand. C Thi Nguyen has written about what happens to us when we’re gamed by platforms like Twitter:

…our values shift from the complex and pluralistic values of communication, to the narrower quest for popularity and virality. Twitter’s gamification bears some resemblance with the phenomena of echo chambers and moral outrage porn.

Bertie Ahern recently voiced the view that had Twitter been around in spring of 1998 nothing would ever have been agreed. Senator Mitchell would have been home for the first day of Baseball, and the GFA would never have been history.

The weight of those negotiations are easily forgotten in the flimsy, transient world of Twitter and Facebook. There was a moral burden to be carried largely by the victims of paramilitary violence (the numbers are pretty conclusive). And still it was done.

If there was no formal forgiveness by victims and their families then a huge amount of grace was extended  those particularly to those who to this day still continue to express a view that there was no alternative to those relentlessly barbarous campaigns.

“Liking a tweet” is not in the same ball park as pulling the trigger on a mixed crowd in a small bar in Co Derry. Offensive, yes. Revealing rather more than intended about character, yes. Adding to the already heavy burden of the families, undoubtedly.

But this magnification is also a result of the structures and processes that Twitter (the corporation) have put together over nearly twenty years. The results are to be seen in the first Trump White House (I doubt he leave if there is a next time).

The bigger problem is that we are magnifying the trivial at the expense of the important, and for no better reason that the game Twitter (and Facebook) are playing with us is to hook us through the pleasure principle of a grossly simplified reality.

Nguyễn again:

In all these phenomena, we are instrumentalizing our ends for hedonistic reasons. We have shifted our aims in an activity, not because the new aims are more valuable, but in exchange for extra pleasure.

Indeed. As I say above no one can make you say awful things but Twitter really likes it when you do. I consider my own self imposed exile to be quality time well spent and if not always as well invested as I’d like.


Discover more from Slugger O'Toole

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

We are reader supported. Donate to keep Slugger lit!

For over 20 years, Slugger has been an independent place for debate and new ideas. We have published over 40,000 posts and over one and a half million comments on the site. Each month we have over 70,000 readers. All this we have accomplished with only volunteers we have never had any paid staff.

Slugger does not receive any funding, and we respect our readers, so we will never run intrusive ads or sponsored posts. Instead, we are reader-supported. Help us keep Slugger independent by becoming a friend of Slugger. While we run a tight ship and no one gets paid to write, we need money to help us cover our costs.

If you like what we do, we are asking you to consider giving a monthly donation of any amount, or you can give a one-off donation. Any amount is appreciated.