How do we stop Meta in 2024? We fix the information loop
Discursive dominance is “the ultimate emergence of one discourse as dominant among competing ones in their struggle for dominance.” Once discursive dominance is secured, objectives are easier to achieve. It’s why lobbyists exist. It’s why we’ve experienced so much synthetic chatter on Mastodon in the last year.
To win discursive dominance, we must continue writing, sharing and compiling information. We must fix the information loop on our feeds (more on that below). Some of the best indie bloggers in the world are on Mastodon daily. Why, for the love of all that is holy, aren’t we writing about how we feel and what we see?
And I get it. There are lots of bloggers who’ve made their opinions on Meta known. But for every blogger with a think-piece, ten are quiet. We need information that reaches outside the Mastodon community.
The problem is that the posts that reach a broad audience are often ￼co-opted and recuperated. Sometimes, often even, the results of co-optation are outside of Meta-affiliated efforts. It’s just how the system works. Nevertheless, it’s the type of thing that makes you not want to write about it anymore.
In my last post, I offered an alternative theory to Meta’s sudden interest in ActivityPub and Mastodon. The post did numbers, as they say. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. It was actually a bit taxing, mentally. And isn’t it always?
The post, titled Copy, Acquire, Kill— How Meta could pull off the most extraordinary pivot in tech history, now exists on hundreds of Hacker News aggregator sites. Some under the original title (minus the Copy, Acquire, Kill part), and some under a new title— Threads.net is the new App.net but with ads and interoperable. Presumably, a Hacker News moderator made a stealth edit for the title...
Fine. Great. Wonderful! Everything is awesome, Mr. Business.
Who cares that the editorial decision stripped away the story’s context. It’s wonderful that the regulatory capture identified in the post was lost to commenters who didn’t bother to read it. It’s fantastic that Hacker News changes titles without any editorial cue, footnote, asterisk, caveat, icon, emoji, newspaper announcement—
Where was I? Oh, right. Convincing everyone they should write more.
Outside of Hacker News, I read a lot of frustrated comments under my post. People are tired of Meta-Mastodon think-pieces and want action. I want to address those comments and community members who left them.
First, I feel you. I get it. Everything around us that falls in the pro-Meta sentiment feels impossibly coordinated. Talking points and amplification from the “everything is awesome” camp are targeted and highly visible. Conversely, resistance feels scattered and unorganized. It feels like we’re not making progress. It feels like we’re just talking and not taking action.
But we are making progress. And we can continue doing so if we all keep talking. The moment we stop expressing our true feelings around the Meta-ActivityPub-Mastodon initiative is the moment that marks our defeat.
It might feel like everyone already knows that Meta is up to something, but I assure you, they don’t. Outside of the Mastodon bubble, people are woefully oblivious. Even within Mastodon, there is little agreement that Meta is up to anything at all. The only way we can change that is if we increase the number of times we collectively press publish.
The only way we can tease out the bad actors is to start highlighting the differences between them and us and stop amplifying factions inside the community that keep us divided.
For example, what if we, as part of an unorganized, diverse group speaking out against Meta, each published a disclosure. That disclosure states that I have not received any payment from Meta. I have not met with Meta or any of its affiliates. I have not, and do not represent any corporate interests when I speak about Meta and the company’s actions. That’s a distinction worth amplifying, in my opinion. But, I digress.
My guess is, anyone who wrote about their frustrations with Meta has been met with the type of pushback that makes you not want to write about the topic again. That is by design. The battle, right now at least, is one of public opinion. Fighting that battle can be taxing. We need more posters, amplifiers, and aggregators engaged and ready to sub in.
Posters, Amplifiers, and Aggregators make the information loop #
Consider the communication roles in a typical social media platform. There are posters, amplifiers, and aggregators.
The Poster synthesizes the world around them. These are your bloggers, micro-bloggers, essayists, shit-posters, or anyone who forms narratives.
The Amplifier spreads the word, often sifting through our noisy feeds for signal. These are your rebloggers, quote tweeters, and video stitchers.
The Aggregator guards the zeitgeist and compiles a complete accounting of events. These are your weekly digesters, Wikipedians, and digital archivists.
In a functional digital society, these roles feed off each other in an endless loop— Amplifiers feed off Posters and Aggregators feed off Amplifiers. Posters then close the loop by synthesizing the aggregate. It’s the circle of life, baby!
On Mastodon, this information loop occurs naturally. Posters, Amplifiers, and Aggregators provide “Mastodonians” with a steady flow of diverse opinions and accountings of events. The community then shapes its worldview and can take informed action when needed. In my opinion, the decision to make Mastodon chronological speaks to this phenomenon.
It’s not so much that algorithms always equal “bad.” Many users clearly want at least some curation. It’s that in corporate social media, it’s impossible for algorithms to escape enshitification.
A natural information loop is perhaps less prevalent on platforms like Threads and Twitter, where algorithms influence behavior and taint motivations. Modern algorithms are why grindset accounts and the worst hot-takes reign supreme on Threads. The incentive is not to inform but to provide content the algorithm “likes.”
When bad faith actors manipulate information channels and co-opt the communication roles, their actions create a fracture in the information loop. Community members then experience a decreased ability to separate sincere sentiment from synthetic chatter. Without a consensus, peoples’ ability to organize against bad-faith actors is stifled.
Within typical corporate social media platforms, algorithms automate the information channel manipulation. Bad actors only need to learn what the algorithm favors through trial and error.
Bad actors must develop new methods for breaking the information loop for platforms with chronological feeds like Mastodon.
Such methods may include:
- Manipulating content moderation policies in a way that favors desired speech.
- Coordinate efforts to co-opt dissenting opinions in a way that weakens peoples’ willingness to express their views over time.
- Flood feeds at opportune times when dissenting posts gain traction.
- Continuity in a single narrative across a select group of prominent Posters.
- Targeted amplification of specific articles and posts that do not provide new information but continue to push a single narrative.
- A reduced ability for Aggregators to aggregate. Whether it be from suppressing dissenting speech or reasonable doubt of authenticity.
What we consume as individuals becomes far more revealing in the aggregate, but only as much as those creating the narrative and those spreading it are trusted to act in good faith. Are our feeds filled with good-faith opinions?
The only way to stop the manipulation of the information loop is to overwhelm the channels with sincere speech from members of the digital community. This requires full action from Posters, Amplifiers, and Aggregators on every platform they participate. If you identify with one of those roles, your participation is a form of action and can absolutely cultivate change.
In other words— Don’t stop talking. Don’t stop sharing. Don’t stop writing. It’s what we need the most right now.
This post is number 3 of a series. You can read the first post The medium is the message— Threads isn't a win for the Fediverse, and the second post Copy, Acquire, Kill— How Meta could pull off the most extraordinary pivot in tech history