A post on Facebook says “there was 9/11, now there is 11/9”. The scale of disaster is almost comparable: who could have predicted that Donald Trump would become the next president of the US?
A recent piece from NiemanLab (a leading think tank on journalism) asks if this election is the turning point for media’s influence. Despite the fact that Trump was supported by only 3% of all media in the US, it did not seem to affect voters’ preferences. No one listens to mainstream media anymore, at least not when it comes to forming an opinion. In fact, the article claims, Trump’s social networks campaign has been much more efficient than most negative coverage he’s received (which was a lot – 27 to 1 to be precise)…
The irony of the situation is that the same social networks that helped Trump win are run by the people who are vehemently opposing Trump and his policies. In the recent open letter Silicon Valley technology leaders expressed how Trump was bad for their businesses and innovation in general. And yet, the very algorithms that they helped create have been consistently increasing his ratings… Which is not surprising at all, considering that those algorithms promote whatever it is that attracts the most clicks and shares – easily digestable, superficial, and often defamatory content (just like Trump himself).
The surprising thing here is that while Google’s CEO is conducting secretive meetings to stop Trump he does not do anything to affect search algorithms’ ranking of Trump-related results. Neither does Mark Zuckerberg who claims Facebook is not a news organisation. Therefore Trump as a president is simply the notions of “freedom” and “democracy” implemented by over-enthusiastic college dropouts with totalitarian ambitions. Willingly or unwillingly they implement algorithms that promote whatever it is that can catch attention because that’s where advertising dollars go. Any claims of ideological nature are refuted, because both are simply creating a “platform“. They seem to be adamant or maybe simply oblivious to the fact that even a platform can promote a certain ideology. And while they have the capacity to steer their platform to promote the values they themselves claim to share, it is in fact the algorithm that decides.
In 2016 the algorithms decided to promote hate content from Trump and make him even more popular. Proponents of Singularity promise the emergence of artificial intelligence in about two decades. What’s going to happen in 2036 then? Especially when that artificial intelligence is being created by ignorant, blind people who prefer not to ask themselves inconvenient questions?
However, perhaps, not everything is so bad. Maybe the good guys in Facebook, Google and Twitter did not do anything on purpose. Maybe they share Zizek’s point of view… Maybe they are even proponents of accelerationism, waiting for the existing world order to drive itself to extinction through its own self-destructive drives. Then we will enter the bright new future with no countries and no presidents. Where Apple will be responsible for running gated communities, Google will take care of the infrastructure, and Facebook will take on the functions of the police… If Zizek is right, the fact that Trump won may actually be a good thing in the long term. However, there are other, much more significant dangers that will inevitably emerge during the transformation. And if we are to allow the software to take command, we should also clearly understand how it functions, what it promotes, and which ideology it serves.