What has the internet become? If you need a black hole of despair and hatred, you’ll find one on the internet. At some point, a huge portion of individuals valued their opinion above all else. After that, they had the right to tell anyone who disagreed how wrong they were. This makes sense in America. We have this little thing called the freedom of speech, and overall I’d say it’s a great thing. However, any great thing can have a bad side if used incorrectly.
Getting back to the internet though, it’s not just the difference of opinion that’s a problem. It’s the utter hatred in comments when two parties disagree. It’s not enough to lay out cases for either side of the argument. Insults, derogatory remarks, and threats of physical harm are used to diminish an opposing view. I’m not even including political discussions! I’m talking about a simple comments section from and AMD / Nvidia / Intel article. I want to delve into the possibility that algorithms have encouraged a form of silent fascism.
Algorithms: Love it or Hate it
Algorithms are an amazing feat of programming. By putting the right code together, a search engine can determine what online content a user prefers. Blame productivity or laziness, but everyone enjoys finding the right post as quickly as possible. While the explanation is a bit too simplistic, algorithms basically cater the internet experience to individual preference. When we look at companies like Google, or social media giants, we can love the accomplishment made for our browsing convenience. Initially, these companies made the internet a much easier place for all of us to enjoy (or hate).
However, there is a dark side to algorithms in my opinion. Computing thrives on finding patterns. This code is catering our internet experience based primarily on our history. The unintended result could easily be an extremely narrow minded worldview. For example, let’s suppose I only like to read news on AMD. If I do a simple search for the “Best Processor,” the search engine will skew the results towards my preference. I will easily find content that confirms what I already think. What if Intel actually has a better CPU for my needs though? The counter point to my current view may be lost down several pages of search results. My ability to grow as a person through diversity of information is lost due to an algorithm.
Conspiracy? Not so Much
At this point, you’re already thinking I’m about to open up on the tech companies. Not hardly. The key here is that I do not see this as intentional. Take Google for example. The company has spent decades trying to give users the best search engine experience. Not only do they base results on a users history, they try to include results from other users with similar patterns. The result is impressive. If I want to find information, I’m going to “Google” it. The reason being that I will likely find the info that I need.
However, Google is just as much a victim as we are. If around 90% of desktops worldwide are using Google, I doubt the employees are using Bing. The potential cycle is a bit disheartening. The programmers in charge of the algorithms are creating a narrow view of the internet. They proceed to use the engine they created, further narrowing their own views. From there, the programmers continue to improve the algorithm based on the info they’ve been fed by themselves. Over time, a Google employee is surrounding oneself by thinking that continuously fails to challenge his or her worldview. Ouch!
The Silent Fascism of Algorithms
It’s a bold claim to say that algorithms are a silent form of fascism. In fact, the word “fascist” as been thrown around so much, I had to look up a definition to understand what it means. A quick search online reveals this key phrase. “…Forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism…” While the term is more commonly referenced to government, I see a soft form of fascism in nearly every corner of the internet. The force involved though is extremely discreet. We don’t have a dictator throwing us in jail for criticism. We have a snippet of code silently hiding information that doesn’t fit our “preferences.” This is the reason I use the phrase “silent fascism.”
Internet users are having opposition and criticism to their opinions forcibly suppressed. However, not only are users unaware, but I believe companies are unaware of this as well. Algorithms essentially force us to have a repetitive internet experience. However, we think we have a broad opinion. Due to the vastness of the internet, how can we have a narrow view of the world? What we don’t realize is that it’s not the vast world that agrees with us. It’s only our narrow scope being matched up with like-minded clones via an algorithm. As a result, any criticism feels like an outlier opinion. The natural instinct is to attack said opinion, rather than contemplate it. How can this opinion be right when everyone else agrees with me?
Can Algorithms bring a Solution?
Algorithms started as a solution. I believe they are a huge part of the problem. I also believe algorithms can combat silent fascism. If a code snippet can narrow down our patterns, couldn’t it also find our opposites? Search engines should definitely help us find what we’re looking for. However, it could probably be easy to include at least a few “opposite” results with the preferred ones. By presenting challenging ideas beside accepted ideas, internet users would have a chance to diversify their thinking. This would also allow great new content a better chance to compete with the established popular content.
Let’s face it. The internet has a problem. When Nyan Cat for 10 hours has over 80 million views, we have to at least question our sanity. A crazy video that has no long term value can get more traction just because it’s “trending.” Do I want crazy videos to go away? Absolutely not! Even I chuckled at Jimmy Barnes screaming for 10 hours. However, everyone needs a challenge to their thinking in order to grow as a person. The state of algorithms could prevent this. Once again, I sincerely do not believe search engines and social media companies are purposefully doing this either. These companies have built successful empires giving us easy internet experiences. What I’m hoping for now is better ones.
A Real World of Diverse Ideas
If you’ve ever had to work in a professional environment, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I work in a hospital, and I don’t have the luxury of living in my own world. I may have an IT brain, but I have to be able to work with nursing staff. My thoughts are constantly challenged by others who fill far different roles than I do. When I first started, these challenges angered me. As I learned to be a better employee though, I began to embrace these differences. Only then did I really see how differences in thinking and personality made our hospital a great place.
I hope the internet can become a place like that. Or in some corners at the very least. I would dare say it used to be at one point in time. Online communities in the past didn’t have a lot of options, so some of them learned to embrace differences in opinion and stay together. It was only a matter of time though before community options expanded. Finding an exact fit of a group feels great, but the group you don’t understand is the one that can help you grow. IT is my comfort zone, but nursing is where I learn patience and understanding. We don’t have to abandon our safe spaces, but we need to step out of them at times as well.
Breaking Silent Fascism, Through Algorithms
Can we get out of this hopeless cycle of attacking differences? A quick look at world problems, politics, and internet comments would say otherwise. However, I think we can start the process. For starters, search engines and social media would have to embrace the idea of pushing the opposite view in their platforms. If changing the algorithm is seen as a ploy to either satisfy critics or sell more ads, it will likely fail. On the other hand, companies can see this a valuable tool to accepting diversity. The company wouldn’t only improve itself, but take a proactive approach to improving its customers. This would address the quality of the platforms, leading to a permanent change.
The other way to promote the diversity of ideas is on an individual level. For starters, never attack a person or an idea. Lay out a case instead. I can say fascism is stupid. The problem is that I’ve done nothing to persuade anyone. If I link the philosophy to a life of anger and failure, now a case is being made. See the difference? Remember, new ideas take time to embrace. Don’t make a case expecting to win an argument. Make a case for the purpose of planting a seed. After avoiding the attack, avoid the argument as well. Don’t be afraid to just sit it out.
Finally, follow someone you don’t really agree with. Ideally, find someone who you still find interesting, but clearly differs with your philosophy on the subject. If you love Nvidia graphics cards, find an AMD fanboy who you don’t mind listening too. You don’t have to agree with him, but he will help expand your thinking. You’ll either find a reason to love an AMD card, or you’ll be even more sure of your choice to love Nvidia. If algorithms won’t bring a challenge to our thinking, we can find a way to do it for ourselves.
A Summary of Algorithms and Silent Fascism
I want to sum up a few points here. Algorithms can inadvertently suppress opposition and criticism, hence the phrasing of silent fascism. A lack of challenging ideas puts a person in a stagnant worldview bubble. I doubt any of this as a whole has been intentional from companies. Search engines and social media can change methods to encourage differences in worldview. Individual users can challenge their own thinking for personal growth and a better internet.
I hope this article is helpful. However, it may just be another nothing no the internet. Regardless, I enjoyed sharing my thoughts here. Let me know what you think in the comments below and feel free to start a discussion. Let’s hope we don’t get a crazy argument! =D