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The internet wants to be fragmented

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Noah Smith sul suo blog Noahpinion ha pubblicato un articolo nel quale discute il fenomeno della frammentazione all’interno delle comunità e delle piattaforme online.
Noah ricorda come una quindicina di anni fa Internet rappresentasse una via di fuga dalla vita reale. Secondo Noah la frammentazione è una tendenza naturale di Internet, molto evidente prima dell’avvento delle grandi piattaforme social: le comunità e le sottoculture si formavano intorno a interessi specifici, portando a un panorama diversificato di forum, gruppi di social media e siti web.

When I first got access to the internet as a kid, the very first thing I did was to find people who liked the same things I liked — science fiction novels and TV shows, Dungeons and Dragons, and so on. In the early days, that was what you did when you got online — you found your people, whether on Usenet or IRC or Web forums or MUSHes and MUDs.

Poi le cose sono cambiate con la centralizzazione delle interazioni in rete all’interno di poche grandi piattaforme:

Then in the 2010s, the internet changed. It wasn’t just the smartphone, though that did enable it. What changed is that internet interaction increasingly started to revolve around a small number of extremely centralized social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and later Instagram.

Questa centralizzazione secondo Smith ha portato con sé non poche conseguenze, trasformando quella che era stata una via di fuga in una prigione:

The early 2010s on Twitter were defined by fights over toxicity and harassment versus early-internet ideals of free speech. But after 2016 those fights no longer mattered, because everyone on the platform simply adopted the same patterns of toxicity and harassment that the extremist trolls had pioneered. By 2019 you could get mobbed by angry librarians, or Saturday Night Live fans, or history professors. The only defense against an angry mob was to get your own angry mob. Twitter felt like a prison, and in prison you need a gang to survive.

L’Internet delle origini, secondo l’autore, funzionava grazie alla moderazione delle community e al fatto che l’offerta di spazi online dove spostarsi per trovarsi meglio era molto vasta. Questa offerta si è ridotta con l’avvento delle grandi piattaforme social. Smith sottolinea l’efficacia della moderazione delle comunità delle origini:

This was the overwhelming lesson of the early internet. It works because it mirrors the social interaction of real life, where social groups exclude people who don’t fit in. And it works because it distributes the task of policing the internet to a vast number of volunteers, who provide the free labor of keeping forums fun, because to them maintaining a community is a labor of love. And it works because if you don’t like the forum you’re in — if the mods are being too harsh, or if they’re being too lenient and the community has been taken over by trolls — you just walk away and find another forum.

Le piattaforme, all’aumentare dei conflitti, hanno allora provato a centralizzare la moderazione:

Caught between the easy profitability of network effects and growing anger over toxicity, the big social media platforms turned to centralized moderation. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t work. Not only was it an impossible task for the moderators themselves, but it meant that the management of the company was basically required to take an editorial slant.  That effectively wrecked the image of the social media companies.

Secondo Smith un nuovo trend sta prendendo forma, con i commentatori che si rifugiano in piccoli spazi di discussione, portando a una nuova frammentazione del web:

As this situation persisted, I began to notice a trend. People were taking their discussions about news, politics, and public affairs off of Twitter and into much smaller forums — first to Twitter DM groups, then to WhatsApp, Signal, and Discord.

I social media centralizzati sono stati un grande esperimento di coscienza umana collettiva globale, che però pare aver fallito.

That experiment failed. Humanity does not want to be a global hive mind. We are not rational Bayesian updaters who will eventually reach agreement; when we receive the same information, it tends to polarize us rather than unite us. Getting screamed at and insulted by people who disagree with you doesn’t take you out of your filter bubble — it makes you retreat back inside your bubble and reject the ideas of whoever is screaming at you. No one ever changed their mind from being dunked on; instead they all just doubled down and dunked harder. The hatred and toxicity of Twitter at times felt like the dying screams of human individuality, being crushed to death by the hive mind’s constant demands for us to agree with more people than we ever evolved to agree with. But human individuality would not die. Instead it is centralized social media that is dying.

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