This is a good question. I think about this (and Blake) all the time. :)

I think, one of the biggest challenges is that, given the incentive to monetize content, producers are going to lean into the bizarre, the shocking, the sensational, etc., simply because that’s what gets clicks (or views, etc.). So I definitely think the biggest issue is “bad actors ” (such as overt white nationalists) using these strategies to spread their messages.

We’ve already seen ham-fisted attempts by YouTube and other companies to ban or de-monetize certain individuals, but given an algorithm that prioritizes engagement over all other values, there will always be new faces to take their place. So we’re really looking at a systemic problem—what Tristan Harris has termed the “race to the bottom of the brainstem”—in which essentially all internet companies have to be complicit in, to some degree, in order to be competitive in the marketplace.

This is something that’s useful for individuals to think about, but it’s going to take visionary leadership plus capital to create an alternative, and I’m not entirely sure where that capital is going to come from, given capital’s vested interest in generating as much profit as possible.

But I do think it’s a good sign that there are now many people articulating the problem. It’s hard to deal with something you don’t understand.

Artist and historian. PhD student researching religion, material culture, media, and politics. Bylines at The Wire Magazine, Art in America + more.

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