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22° Nicosia,
16 September, 2019
 
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‘It’s the algorithm, stupid’

Paranoia and conspiracy theories whizzing around never fail to impress

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

The paranoia and conspiracy theories whizzing around never fail to impress. If anything, they have been even more prevalent during the crisis, and coming from people who were considered “serious.”

As a nonbeliever in chemtrails and anti-vax theories, I have been trying to understand the phenomenon for some time now. Society’s dramatic impoverishment has certainly not helped – it helped to cultivate the many crazy ideas and allow them to take root.

After much searching and reading, I came to the following conclusion: “It’s the algorithm, stupid.” Years ago I observed something that had not broken out into a major international issue yet. Every time I searched YouTube for a video related to the Aegean or some other national issue, a list of other “recommended” videos would appear beside it.

Some were even on autoplay, drawing me in to watch them at once. But the point is that the overwhelming majority of these videos were blatantly promoting far-right or far-left conspiracy theories. They ranged from “documentaries” “proving” that 9/11 never happened and shows on the global Masonic conspiracy to clips suggesting that foreign lenders were actually after our “massive” reserves of natural gas.

Every once in a while, the system would recommend a serious video. At closer examination, though, these videos had usually been viewed by just a few thousand people, as opposed to the millions who saw the others – the battle between reason and madness is certainly skewed.

I initially thought that someone was paying to have those kooky videos in the list but later discovered that it is Google’s mighty algorithm that guesses what I would be most interested in and what is most popular. The answer was as simple – and as dangerous – as that.

Back in 2010, Facebook, YouTube and other such social media were relatively new additions to day-to-day life. Then the crisis came and threw us for a loop. Angry, jobless and bankrupt Greeks started spending more and more hours in front of a screen, angry at the media, looking for answers they were convinced we were deliberately hiding. And they found these answers – in spades and very deliberately delivered.

But it was not a conspiracy, as so many believed at the time; it was the algorithm! It was a combination of artificial intelligence and a business model that drew more and more people into the dark realm of conspiracy and paranoia.

Other countries have acknowledged the problem and are trying to do something about it. Here in Greece we are still wide open – and the results are more than evident.

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