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This week a violent mob mounted the biggest attack on the Capitol, the seat of American democracy, in more than 200 years, driven by the false belief that the presidential election had been stolen.
The chief author of that claim was President Donald Trump, but the mob’s readiness to believe it was in large part a product of the attention economy that modern technology has created.
News feeds on Facebook or Twitter operate on a business model of commodifying the attention of billions of people per day, sorting tweets, posts, and groups to determine which get the most engagement (clicks, views, and shares)—what gets the strongest emotional reactions.
These commodifying attention platforms have warped the collective psyche. They have led to narrower and crazier views of the world.
YouTube’s recommendation algorithms, which determine 70% of daily watch time for billions of people, “suggest” what are meant to be similar videos but actually drive viewers to more extreme, more negative, or more conspiratorial content because that’s what keeps them on their screens longer.
For years, YouTube recommended “thinspiration”—anorexia-promoting videos—to teen girls who watched videos about “dieting.” And when people watched science videos of NASA’s moon landing, YouTube recommended videos about […]