Algorithmic demagoguery – Monsters from the Id redux

A delirious, inexhaustible, social fountain of information … what could go …

A new book (below) reminded me of the sci-fi classic 1956 movie Forbidden Planet, and how an extinct godlike race fell prey to the ultimate persuasive technology (“unaffected by intelligence, ethics, or morality”). There was not even time for an apology by the Krell entrepreneurs, eh.

Hopefully, moderation will prevail. And there’ll be collective action to tame the demons unleashed by social algorithms.

Excerpted from All Sci-Fi > Complete Forbidden Planet script from 8/26/1954 (3-2-2021)

[Doc] Skipper! The Krell had completed their project! No instrumentalities! Creation! The big machine – ! But the Krell forgot one thing – Monsters, Skipper! Monsters from the Id – !

[Adams] What is the Id?

[Morbius] The Id? An obsolete term, I’m afraid – once used to describe the most primitive and elementary basis of the subconscious mind.

[Morbius] Ah! The mindless primitive beast! Yes – even they must have evolved from that!

[Adams] And now those mindless beasts had access to a machine that could never be shut down! A delirious, inexhaustible fountain! The secret devil of every soul on the planet – all set free at once, with power to loot, and maim, and take revenge, and kill!

[Morbius] My poor Krell! After a million years of shining sanity, they could hardly have understood what was destroying them.

• Brill, Steven (2024). The Death of Truth: How Social Media and the Internet Gave Snake Oil Salesmen and Demagogues the Weapons They Needed to Destroy Trust and Polarize the World – And What We Can Do. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is a book about how facts – truths – have lost their power to hold us together as a community, as a country, and globally. … Chaos replaces reason and civility. Power comes not through ideas debated civilly in democratic processes but to those who generate the most distrust for their own purposes.

We thought these [social media, et al.] were communications innovations that would bring the world together. Instead, we have seen them split us apart into an infinite collection of warring tribes with infinite fears and grievances.

… the good news about the internet was that anyone could be a publisher. And the bad news about the internet was that anyone could be a publisher, and what they published would get more reach the more impassioned or outlandish it was.

The content that drove engagement was the angry, even over-the-top stuff.

Related references

  • Kosseff, Jeff (2023). Liar in a Crowded Theater: Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation. Johns Hopkins University Press. Kindle Edition.
  • Montell, Amanda (2021). Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.