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foxwizard ☾

How do you like *dis* information?

Making sense in the distraction economy.

tl;dr – vote yes

Zilverreiger, by Ohara Koson, ca. 1930

Ahoynesses. I’m trying a new thing—“musings in 750 words or less”. Last week’s museletter was a 15 minute read—and thus very unpopular. Either way, I am increasingly feeling that The Internet is not the place for longform reading—that’s the role of books and print publications. So what is the internet for?

Well, many things, of course. Chief amongst them, the internet is for collectively sharing, connecting, and ‘making sense’ of things—so that we might coordinate more effectively (amidst higher orders of complexity). But our noösphere has become so corrupted, polluted, distorted and inflamed—that seems like a bit of a pipe dream, now.

In writing this museletter, I was reminded of something I wrote nearly four years ago—🍂 How to Navigate The Internet like a Wizard. 🧙🏻‍♂️ I had deleted this musing a couple of years ago amidst my prolonged Signature Existential Crisis™️—but have since resurrected it for you, because my writing was actually Not That Bad, and the concepts I shared still seem apt.

In that I musing I posited that the internet is The Warp. “Treat all of the gifts from The Warp as suspect—literally warped distortions of partial-truths.”

It was odd to revisit this post, because I was complaining about twitter way back then. And that was before Elon came to town and made it X.

This morning I read this post by Joan Westenberg: There Is No Moral Argument For Staying On Twitter/X. It hits hard, and true.

“Twitter has become a platform that amplifies the voice of the powerful over the vulnerable. It is designed to reward controversy, conflict and outrage. Nuance, expertise and thoughtful debate struggle to survive. And as Twitter becomes more chaotic under its new owner, Elon Musk, the situation worsens.

Musk boosts misinformation. He promotes hate. He demonstrates utter contempt for minorities, dissidents and his own employees. He postures as a free speech fan while selling out free speech at every turn. [...]

Does anything good remain on the platform? We know the pitch: connecting with distant friends, building communities, and spreading awareness of important causes. But the bad has become predominant. The benefits do not outweigh the costs.

Some still argue that abandoning Twitter is a form of cowardice or retreat — giving up the digital public square to the trolls and propagandists. But staying implies complicity with the breakdown of constructive discourse and the race to the bottom. [...]

The only acceptable choice is to withdraw from an environment that brings out our worst instincts, and redirect our energy and attention to more thoughtful online and offline spaces.”

Thoughtful online and offline spaces; I like that. And I think it high time to step away from Twitter/X. There is no moral argument for staying on the platform, as Joan writes. And, just recently, the blatant disinformation promulgated by the ‘No’ campaign in Australia (in the lead up to the referendum happening today) has been frustrating to witness.

“Australians are being ‘systematically misinformed’, said Timothy Graham, an associate professor at the Queensland University of Technology who has analysed about 250,000 tweets related to the Indigenous Voice referendum.

Tweets opposing the Voice to Parliament are “characterised by confusion and misinformation about the details of the proposed constitutional amendment and a focus on race and racial division,” he said.

“Stoking fear, doubt and uncertainty in audiences puts a major roadblock in their ability to make informed, reasoned choices ... people are divided, confused and fighting each other,” he said. “What we are seeing is information warfare.” (source)

Whilst I empathise with many aspects of the oxymoron that is ‘the progressive no’, I have voted a lukewarm ‘yes, of course’—and I encourage others to do similarly.

The optics of a ‘No’ outcome are terrible; and not conducive to meaningful progress. The 'No' campaign is built on lies and misinformation. To have this ‘win’ will be extremely disheartening, proving the efficacy of fear and disinformation—hastening our potential descent into fascism. Not great.

“We may look back at the Voice referendum as a turning point for when election lies and conspiracies went mainstream in Australia,” said Kurt Sengul, a lecturer at the University of Sydney who studies far-right populism. The current debate in the country, he added, was “the first significant Trump-style misinformation and disinformation campaign we’ve seen in recent political history”. (source)

We are also witnessing similar disinformation—at scale—in regards to what is happening in Gaza right now.

In a piece for Wired titled “The Israel-Hamas War Is Drowning X in Disinformation,” David Gilbert reported that the app was flooded with “old videos, fake photos, and video game footage at a level researchers have never seen.” At a time when open-source intelligence researchers would normally be scouring the network for first-person accounts from the attacks, they instead had to sift through previously unseen levels of garbage.

Gilbert writes: “Rather than being shown verified and fact-checked information, [Twitter/]X users were presented with video game footage passed off as footage of a Hamas attack and images of firework celebrations in Algeria presented as Israeli strikes on Hamas. There were faked pictures of soccer superstar Ronaldo holding the Palestinian flag, while a three-year-old video from the Syrian civil war repurposed to look like it was taken this weekend. […] Many of these videos and images racked up hundreds of thousands of views and engagements. While some later featured a note from X’s decimated community fact-checking system, many more remained untouched.

Musk, for his part, warned users away from trusting mainstream journalists on the subject, instead promoting two accounts that are known spreaders of misinformation. [...] This is a system designed to cause chaos in the information environment, and it is working by design. (source)

Chaos in the information environment? Yep, that sounds like The Warp. Now with AI-augmented deep fakes. 👹 We must keep our wits about us. And...

We ought cultivate wizardry

The etymology of wizard is “wise” + “-ard”—the latter is an intensifier to the former.* I know this sounds flippant—and pandering to the archetype I purport to embrace, all smug and self-congratulatory; but—we need more of us trained in the sensibilities of a ‘wizard’. That is: to be well-versed in making sense of our noösphere. Folks who can amplify a wiser kind of intelligence. A kind of intelligence that is at ease within complexity, uncertainty, volatility, ambiguity, paradox and doubt.

* The word has become gendered, but really: wizardry is attainable by all genders.

Because “The truth is that you don’t have the truth; that you never will.” writes Hanzi Freinacht. “And even if you turn out to be right about something, there will always be a time when your opinion is outdated or at least incomplete. Whatever direction you move in, it will lead to contradiction, self-destruction and decay, sooner or later. Your perspective or opinion always has a systemic limit, a breaking point; it always breaks down under its own weight, just like any engine, organism or economic system. You never get to be the good guy in the end. You are not innocent.”

But! Even knowing this, we can strive to co-create a world more curious and kind. “I develop if you develop,” Hanzi also writes. “Even if we don’t agree, we come closer to the truth if we create better dialogues and raise the standards for how we treat one another.”

Here’s to thoughtful online and offline spaces; and the creation of better dialogues—wherever they may be.

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