I predict a riot

“The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.” (Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd, p. 64)

What would Monsieur le Professeur Le Bon make of the fact that his 1895 masterpiece The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind is as timely and relevant today as it was then?

Written under the influence of his experience of the Paris Commune, the civil war between Paris and the rest of France which killed thousands and saw the burning of Tuileries Palace on 25th May 1871, some 150 years before the storming of the Capitol on 6th January 2021 (see this remarkable report from the Guardian archive), he was wary of “our savage destructive instincts” and the “cowardly ferocity” of crowds.

He should have come and watched a match at the New Den pre-lockdown.

Revolt in Paris

Of course, the first SDF convention of 2021 (the sixth year of our chatventure, no less) on Friday 15th – still a Zoom affair, plus ça change – had a lot to say about that Capitol offence from nine days earlier.

And about the latest zigzagging from the government of Plague Island (thanks Sam), about trust in general and the Trust Barometer in particular – with differing opinions, though less so than on the topic of whether and how, or not, The Platforms are publishers. More of that later.

On the matter of trust and the government, Sam sets the scene with a pop-cultural reference – though it’s neither The Kaiser Chiefs, nor The Communards, but rather his go-to repository for such matters, Marillion’s Fish, who in State of Mind proclaims “I don’t trust the government, I don’t trust alternatives. It’s not that I’m paranoid, it’s just that’s the way it is.”

Ah yes, fish. Happy fish. Again, more of that later.

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2020: Caught in the Gaslights

“Are you trying to tell me I’m insane?” asks Ingrid Bergman’s character Paula of her husband Gregory (Charles Boyer) in George Cukor’s 1944 film noir classic, Gaslight. To which he responds “Now, perhaps you will understand why I cannot let you meet people.”

An emotional manipulation which makes the target doubt their own memory, perception or judgment, gaslighting is a very real and serious form of domestic abuse – and as such has been exacerbated through the periods of lockdown, like all forms of abuse.

It has also become something of a media buzzword, so it is no surprise to see it being liberally appropriated (to avoid for once the martial imagery of ‘weaponized’) for political purpose on all our favourite fronts, from Brexit (for and against) to COVID and Trump (in liberal propaganda outlet Stylist(!), as well as The Independent, Forbes , Washington Post, to name but a few).

Gaslighting

The SmallDataForum’s fifth Xmas special was, of course, a socially responsible, zoomy affair – with the three of us in our respective WFH HQs, rather than sat around a table in our favourite Italian restaurant, Ristorante Olivelli by the Old Vic in South London, feasting on fine Italian foods and beverages, and recording to the clattering chattering sound of a busy lunchtime service (and afterwards testing Neville’s thankfully advanced audio editing skills).

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Cummings and goings

By any reckoning, 2020 will go down as a year to be forgotten.

For the havoc and carnage wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic, right across the globe. For the most divided and divisive U.S. presidential election in living memory. And for the cocksure cockups of the giant brain of Prime Minister Johnson’s martinet, Demonic Cummings, and the confederacy of dunces lined up to steer Britain through the double-whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit.

It’s enough to make a poor podcaster cry, but when the Small Data Forum triumvirate gathered to record episode 41 on – of course – Friday 13 November, there was almost a party mood of good news in the air.

How could this be?

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Trump Oz

“Donald Trump has absolutely nothing to say. He has no agenda. He has no plan. He has no ideals or hopes or purpose”, according to a post-debate analysis by Jill Filipovic in the Guardian on 23rd October.

One side of the partisan divide agrees vigorously. Watching the unedited 38 minutes of Trump’s 60 Minutes interview with veteran CBS journalist Lesley Stahl that his campaign released – breaking traditions and agreement, as per – you’re most likely to come to the same conclusion if your worldview was formed in that same echo chamber.

Mine was and yes, I struggle to imagine how anyone could watch and not see him merely as a mean-spirited, intellectually incurious and empty bloviator.

And yet. Sam cites the latest Popbitch newsletter which reminds us that, while both betting markets and polling favoured Remain and Clinton in 2016, higher stacks of money were put on Leave (75%) and Trump (68%).

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Social dilemmas, digital and phygital experiences

As if proof was needed that new Netflix edu-docu The Social Dilemma is highly Marmite among (social) media cognoscenti, the SmallDataForum verdict is very much a score draw, from Sam’s firm thumbs-down to my approval and on to Neville’s not-seen-it-yet.

I share Sam’s take that there’s not much new to learn – certainly for topic obsessives like us – and I also agree that eminent voices such as Shoshana Zuboff’s and Jonathan Haidt’s seem overly muffled and perhaps squandered.

But then we’re not the primary target audience. Neither are new media commentators, such as the Verge’s Casey Newton, who feels that the film misunderstands social networks. If it gets the average Netflix user to reflect a bit more on what they do with social media (and social media with them), then that can’t be a bad thing.

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