Be Wary As Social Media Turns Social Disease

‘I’ ON CULTURE

Right now, the Internet has about as many bad qualities as good. Yes, it opens up discussions, but it also clearly demonstrates how many nasty, sick people there are. On top of that, there is an increasing amount of censorship, which often only exacerbates issues. Remember that Donald Trump cannot censor us, the Democrats in Congress cannot censor us, but the billionaire executives at tech companies can and do censor us. And then they block out the news of the censorship.

A great example happened over the opening of the movie Captain Marvel, which I reviewed last week. Rotten Tomatoes, a web site that aggregates ratings by critics and audience members, openly censored 50,000 reviews on Thursday, March 7. There was actually a reasonable explanation: the movie did not open until later that night. But there were 50,000 negative reviews, all done presumably by people who had never seen the film. Who were they? Checking things out revealed that there were many people who hated the idea of a strong woman, combined with others who were really ticked off that Vers, the heroine, did not have a man to run to, either as an ally or a romantic interest. And there were some who wanted, shall we say, more clear affection between the lead and her gal pal.

It worried me at first that there were so many people who were so disturbed that they were ready to sabotage a film because it did not match in their minds what they wanted, and they did it before seeing the movie. I did find out with a bit of research than a good amount of the reviewers posted these reviews multiple times, changing a word here or there and their screenname. The whole thing began to seem like the fun we all get with robocalls, but now we have machines tabulating numbers on whether or not something is good.

A major problem with social media is that anyone can join. A Nobel Prize winner and a sociopath are all the same. We have seen more than a few computer mobs formed to protest one thing or another, and often the premise behind everything is wrong. Remember that kid with the MAGA hat who received thousands of critiques that even included death threats? A day later, a better, more complete view showed that he wasn’t really at fault. We need more care in an age where it is easy to manipulate data, including video.

To top things off in the Captain Marvel situation, Google stepped in. Now there was no need to do anything much after the first weekend of the film’s release, where more than a half billion dollars was taken in. People clearly wanted to see the film. But Google, whose slogan is “Don’t Do Bad Things,” even as it provides tight censorship and social control for the Chinese government and special apps that can be used to trace the movement of women for the Muslim world, took action.

It owns a large piece of YouTube and controls its operations. On the Monday after the film had a huge opening, it changed its algorithm to disallow any negative reviews on the film. Yes, the same algorithm that it said could not be changed to block anti-Semitic content from the top of just about any search of the word “Jew,” that could certainly not block that content at all, could block people who might well have seen the film and not liked it, from being heard.

So, on one hand you have the crazies, and on the other, well, you have other crazies. There is often no way to judge the truth or falsehood of many statements, so a nasty person with a sharp sense of humor may be heard. People who are filled with some kinds of hate can be heard. But those who oppose them may not.

Much of this is not due to the current administration or to its political foes but to a social media system that is itself intolerant both from the bottom and the top. And we seem fated to live in it.