I recently finished “Black Earth Rising”; the series on Netflix which is about the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Twenty-five years on, the stories are still about trauma and restoration and justice. Of how a nation heals, what is society’s responsibility to the truth juxtaposed against the need to move on. But mostly, the story of Rwanda is about confusion. Why? How could they have done this one to the other? In what world…
Healing, toleration and community. Things I know about; things I’ve dealt with my whole life, and their antipodes – yes mostly the latter. More on that later. Because I know how things fall apart; I know how they come undone, for I’ve seen more of that than anything else. Quillette is running a series on “Who Controls the Platform” – social media and its wickedness. Because the answer to the above question, to “How could they have done this?” is found simply in the everyday following of any #Hashtag you want.
I have found it ironically sad in that helpless kind of way that Facebook and Twitter are having these very public, weird, angsty conversations about how to control the “hate-speech” on their platforms. Control it? According to the experts, the hate is the whole point. “It starts out giving users ‘what they want,’ but the algorithms are trained to nudge user attention in directions that Facebook wants. The algorithms choose posts calculated to press emotional buttons because scaring users or pissing them off increases time on site. Facebook calls it engagement, but the goal is behavior modification that makes advertising more valuable.”
Back to my story. I ended up in Rwanda only five years after the genocide. The earth still cried out in outrage; the haunted looks in people’s eyes – victims and perpetrators alike – was still yellow with fear and bitterness. I was there to work the Congo civil war, next door – a war that runs on today engined on rape and fear as well, long after I moved on. I have worked the civil wars in Mali, where hate also knows no bounds. The little-girl bombs of Boko Haram in Nigeria. The intra-ethnic violence of the Ugandan Acholi during the LRA wars – the greatest evil I’ve ever witnessed (I wrote a novel about it – its rough stuff friends). The suicide of Venezuela. People are capable of tremendous evil, when crowded into groups, energized and unleashed upon each other.
“Human beings do their nastiest, cruelest, foulest, stupidest work hyped up on fear and its distillates. No wonder America’s political enemies find Twitter such a gift: fear makes Americans turn on one another. Twitter runs on angry fear, and it stinks of the stuff, inside and out.” We now know what these algorithms are doing to us – and yet we persist. Why? Because social media stimulates the same part of our minds as gambling does. Each of us are certain, absolutely convinced in fact that its the next tweet which will go viral, and we will be discovered; our next Facebook post will assure our place in history and we will have saved our democracy from them…
Nonsense – but don’t tell the gambler that.
We need to stop this folks – we need to find our compassion, our joy, our patience. We need to end our addiction to the little red dopamine boosts we get when we hurl wickedness at strangers. We need to abandon our own Radio Mille Collines which is encouraging us to weaponize our opinions – because when they are, it is only one step to real violence. Believe me, for I know the result, and it is not a good place. I walked away from Facebook and Twitter – can you?