“A virus has spread, using technology to systematically tear at the social fabric”

Danah Boyd recently gave a talk at the Digital Public Library of America conference. It’s chilling stuff and chimes with my own thoughts about the internet: what we once thought would be a powerful, enlightening force for good has been weaponised and by people who want to tear our world apart.

What’s at stake right now is not simply about hate speech vs. free speech or the role of state-sponsored bots in political activity. It’s much more basic. It’s about purposefully and intentionally seeding doubt to fragment society.

This is something we see again and again in everything from climate change and vaccination to whether minorities should be granted human rights.

The agendas differ: sometimes it’s corporations trying to undermine legislation that might affect their profitability; sometimes it’s religious fundamentalists; sometimes it’s racists; sometimes it’s disaster capitalists.

But what these various bad actors have in common is their attempts to create an “other side” when there is no other side, a “debate” when the facts are unequivocal. They do this not because there’s uncertainty, disagreement or division, but because they want to create uncertainty and disagreement and division. They want people to disbelieve the facts, disbelieve the scientific consensus, disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes.

This line jumped out at me.

Journalists often get caught up in telling “both sides,” but the creation of sides is a political project.