Sorry for not making it to your inbox last week. Among other things, I had to get tested for COVID after someone I work with resulted positive. Luckily I'm negative. I'm not too scared of the disease per se, but I will admit that I find the prospect of not being able to smell/taste my pasta absolutely terrifying.
I've been trying to make sense of the current debate about technology and censorship. As you might have heard, Facebook and Twitter limited the distribution of a breaking story on Joe and Hunter Biden from the New York Post, both citing different reasons (for Facebook, the story needed to be fact-checked first, while for Twitter the problem was that the content was obtained without authorization).
Personally, I think this was a mistake that can lead to serious consequences. Platforms should remain neutral. By picking a side, Facebook and Twitter re-wrote expectations of their platforms. Will Facebook now fact-check every story by every legacy media company? Will Twitter suppress stories based on leaks to journalists from the Trump administration? I'd love to know what you think - if you have any thoughts about this, hit reply and let me know.
Here's what you will find in this week's issue:
- Why meme-induced hysteria represents the biggest danger of our time
- How online life is breaking the old order and reshaping human experience
- How Netflix reinvented its marketing on social media
- Creative work from UNICEF, Jack Daniel's, Heinz, and Oreo
🧠 Brain Food
The next two articles are among the most thought-provoking pieces about our relationship with media I've been reading in a long time.
15 minute read | Pirate Wires
Today, almost half the global population (3.5 billion people) is connected to the internet by the supercomputing smartphones in our pocket. The way we access “news,” or live information about the world, has radically changed.
By the late 2010s we were consuming most of our news from Twitter and Facebook. These were not publishers or centralized aggregators. They were places where we talked to our friends. Ubiquitous mobile internet dramatically increased our immersion in media, but ubiquitous social media dramatically increased the speed at which ideas travel and, perhaps more significantly, deeply socialized the dynamic.
We no longer learn about the world from institutions, or even the illusion of them. We learn about the world from people we care about. This binds our sense of truth to tribal identity, and that is a powerful, fundamentally emotional connection.
Since the early days of social media, one of the main problems has been bullying.
Bullying morphed into mobbing, and an important question emerged: what is the difference between a mob and a righteous movement?
In 2011, we were all very optimist about the power of the Internet-driven societal change. When a series of political uprisings swept the Arab world, the American press and the tech sector characterized it as a revolution for freedom. We have all had noticeably less to say about the military dictatorship now in control of that country.
When governments shut the world down because of COVID-19 they were motivated, as we all were, by what we read on social media. A series of memes — stories, photos, random pieces of incomplete data — coursed the entire world, one after another, spurring immediate action. COVID-19 was a biological crisis. But it was also a global information disaster.
An idea is now capable of almost immediately crippling the world. There is only one question that should be consuming us today:
What else is possible?
There is potential for personal and national-scale disasters. All it takes is a large number of people acting rapidly and emotionally on information they just received. The information will almost certainly, by the very nature of new information, be incomplete or inaccurate.
For the first time in history, we actually have to find a way to manage our impulse toward meme-induced hysteria. At its simplest, a little mental hygiene might be helpful. The notion we all suffer from confirmation bias needs to be normalized, and discussed. When relaying some emotionally-charged story, it is worth relaying first how this kind of story makes you feel in general, and the sort of things you might be missing.
25 minute read | The New Atlantis
We might say that our public sphere is now inhabited by the citizens of two “cities,” the Digital City and the Analog City. Much of the stress under which our body politic now labors, much of the strangeness of our moment, much of our apparent inability to move productively forward as a society, may be attributed in part to the emergence of the Digital City and its dramatic growth over the past two decades.
Our culture has been formed predominantly by the Analog City. What we are now witnessing is the ascendancy of the Digital City, which is characterized primarily by ubiquitous Internet connectivity. Some of us have inhabited both the Analog City and the Digital City, while an increasing number of us have known only the Digital City.
The article argues that we are witnessing a clash between the two. Take the current debate about the need for fact-checking, for example:
When facts are few, persuading the ignorant is relatively easy. But information abundance, already characteristic of early modern societies, engenders a degree of skepticism: The more there is to know, the more likely we feel that truth is elusive.
Information super-abundance encourages the view that truth isn’t real: Whatever view you want to validate, you’ll find facts to support it.
All information is also now potentially disinformation. Fact-checking, however well-intentioned, does not solve the problem; paradoxically, it may in some cases make it worse. It is an Analog City solution insufficient to the problems of the Digital City.
I found very interesting this point about free speech:
Free-speech maximalists, who believe that there should be no limits to what you can say regardless of how odious the opinions may be, are distressed by the alacrity with which some are prepared to call for the speech of others to be curtailed or circumscribed. But free-speech maximalism flourishes in print culture; in the Digital City it appears less desirable, for two reasons.
First, print culture sustained the belief that, given a modicum of good sense and education among people, truth would triumph in the marketplace of ideas. Writing and reading are slow and deliberate, encouraging the belief that false ideas will eventually be rejected by anyone trained to think. Second, we experience the written word as an inert reality — it is the “dead letter,” it has lost the force and immediacy of the spoken word. Because writing is less volatile than speech, it makes freedom of expression seem relatively harmless.
This is an interesting case study of Netflix's approach to marketing. The key is that they think like a publisher. They created several channels aimed at different subsets of their audience, which are now becoming brands on their own.
7 minute read | Protocol
How do you market a product to the world if you already have close to 200 million committed customers? For Netflix, the answer has been to realize that its audience is not a monolith.
A little over two years ago, Netflix launched dedicated social channels to audiences overlooked by traditional marketing. Those channels include NX for all things geek and sci-fi; Con Todo, a channel for Latinx audiences; LGBTQ+ channel The Most; Netflix Family for everything parents enjoy; and Strong Black Lead, an outlet celebrating Black films and TV shows.
What's interesting is that they became mini-brands on their own on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Twitch and Reddit. Through this approach, they invited fans to connect over their shared life experiences and passions.
Key to understanding this kind of diversity is to hire from your audience, Banks argued. "We hire fans and people who are obsessed about this stuff, who live and breathe it," she said.
As Editorial and Publishing Manager Max Mills puts it, content and identity are intermixed. "I am defined by what I watch, and what I watch defines me. It helps me find people who are like me."
Netflix's audience-segment-specific approach to social media marketing and brand-building might be new to the world of streaming services, but Banks argued that outlets like BuzzFeed, which has a dedicated LGBTQ Instagram account and frequently targets subsets of its audience with content that speaks their language, discovered it long ago.
🏅 Stuff I recommend
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🎁 Box Of Random
Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakes. (Carl Jung)
“Violence leaves more than a mark” A film for Unicef:
Jack Daniel's celebrates its people in this awesome new campaign:
There are two kinds of limbo, according to Seth Godin:
Uncomfortable limbo happens when we’re seeking firm footing and there isn’t any. The discomfort comes from not knowing, from our unlimited desire to get through it to the other side. And comfortable limbo is a place to hide. We lull ourselves into complacency, because the limbo of being in between feels safe, with no responsibilities.
Amazingly, two different people can experience the same limbo in totally different ways. It’s not the limbo that’s different, it’s us.
What some of our favorite foods taste like, without the main ingredient:
"A loving world starts with a loving home" Oreo partnered with PFLAG’s on this touching film, which highlights the importance of family support when it comes to fostering LGBTQ+ acceptance (via AdAge).
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