"Freemium High": Psychological Reward On Fury Road

Comment Field Social Media Adversaries, Check Your Buzz

This year, I have made a concerted effort to referee the internet.  Crack your fingers, place them on the keyboard, and enter the Fury Road of Comment Field Politics.

It was late. I'd had two glasses of Shiraz. And thought I'd check out Tucker Carlson, Bill O'Reilly's timeslot replacement on Fox News.

Had been listening to MSNBC and NPR side of the "Trump vs. Comey" story, and needed to clear my head of bias confirmation. It's our civic duty to understand both sides of the story. In high school, our debate coaches and senior team members would say "hey, the X high school seniors have a really excellent Negative Debate rebuttal vs. Solar Power, you should go listen, they meet Y team at 3PM"

I've known and somewhat respected Tucker Carlson from his bow-tie days, when he was the anti-populist alternative to Pat Buchanon.  He seemed to be aiming for the vacancy of Ivy League conservative William F. Buckley Jr.  His track record seems libertarian - Turned anti Iraq War (after the 1st year), supported Rand Paul, said gay marriage is a "civilizing force".

Now the abrupt cancelling of O'Reilly Factor put Tucker into the 8PM time slot, with the job of keeping O'Reilly's conservative viewers.  But those are a different age, and a different economic bent than traditional William F. Buckley, Heritage Foundation viewers.

So I was perturbed by Tucker's interview of an advocate for legal Haitian refugees, when Tucker brought up the topic of rounding them up and expelling them.

To make a long story short, Tucker kicked off the question of whether Haitian Earthquake Refugees, admitted to the USA after the 2010 disaster, should now be sent back home.  Notice that he introduces the question, but then feigns that he's being attacked for asking the question (implying "political correctness") in a tweet BEFORE his expert has had a chance to answer.

This is frequently Tucker's modus operendi, and too frequently his liberal guests fall for it, and attack him for asking.  But Friday night's guest didn't fall for it.

Instead he explained that the Haitians have now lived here 7 years and surveys have found them to be gainfully employed. He made the case that it was cheaper for the USA to tax their income, after which they send it home as remittance.  Remittance, or payments sent by the family and diaspora back to the home country, the guest answered, is less expensive for the USA than foreign aid and disaster relief.  He said the labor adds to the USA GDP, and the Haitians working here gain an understanding of civics, democracy, and expectations they should bring to their home country.

At this point Tucker gave his smarmy "I don't understand" look and asked why he was being attacked for asking the question.  He had not been.  He had been given a very smart answer, and he was playing dumb, and implying he was being attacked for asking the question.  The Haitian expert in remittances grew frustrated.  Clearly the poor dude had never been on national TV before, but knew the time was fleeting, and having to re-explain it again (with Tucker interrupting him) was visibly nerve-wracking.

Tucker then threw out whether it was right for these Haitians to remain in the USA "given the massive unemployment" in the USA.   Um.  WHAT?

Massive unemployment?  Are you kidding me?  Seriously?  As if he believes sending thousands of Haitians home from jobs in restaurant dishrooms, hotel cleaning staff, and car washes is going to bring USA unemployement down further from the current record-low 4%.

So I entered the Thunderdome.  I posted one of the first replies to @TuckerCarlson via Twitter.  And here I got a lesson in the "Fury Road" of the internet.  The Play Theory or gamesmanship people find in "trolling" is becoming as addictive as blinking and ringing slot machines.

My initial tweet to Carlson simply called him out for answering "massive unemployment" to the sophisticated explanation of remittances as better than foreign aid.  My early tweet generated hundreds of responses....  Mad Max responses.

Illegals!  No.  No they are not.
Tax Money!  No. They earn hourly wages and pay FICA and federal and state  income tax.
Sharia Law!  Wait what..?

Some initially offered argument, but when I responded, went immediately and horribly into downright stupid and racist.  See the number of likes and retweets to Nik below.  Nik counters my argument by asking "what's in it for America", which is a legitimate question (one Tucker also claims is being attacked for being asked, when it often isn't).  Nik says that the result if we don't send the Haitian earthquake refugees back to Haiti will be bombings, rapes, Sharia Law. and female genital mutilation.

Voodoo?  Seriously? Americans are at risk of Voodoo Law being imposed by Haiti immigrants?  Oh wait, I get it... Nik is just insulting people, gotcha.  Trolling 101.

Nik gets 133 likes and 21 retweets.  Increduously (in the spirit of Tucker C) I ask about the connection to Sharia Law and Haiti... Haiti is a predominantly Christian country in the Caribbean, with thousands of miles of Ocean between it and the Middle East. I get 7 likes, one retweet, and a lot of insults.  But also this...

I get a warm feeling from a thank you or two, like the one from Marie above.  But "Hahaha" Nik "wins the internet" by changing his objection to Haitians bringing "voodoo" to America. 41 likes, 3 reweets.

Drill down deeper into the comments, and it gets Mad Maxy.

The comments in the retweets go into all kinds of racist directions, often making no political point whatsoever, simply seeking to amplify the "voodoo" insult.  They are clearly prodding the internet with intentional and flagrant fouls, trying to grab me by the emotional p***y.

I continued to try to referee the discussion, but begin to feel as useful as a hood ornament.  I gained a few followers, but also lots of hate tweets. And I began reflecting on how many of these may be re-tweeted by Russian Troll Farms for the explicit purpose of engendering division in American society, in order to weaken our democracy.

Why would that be effective?

That's the takeaway here.  This is what I learned.  Andrew Thompson explains it in The Verge.


The political comment field is a war of nameless, faceless adversaries. 140 character retweets are like blinking slot machine numbers, aimed at stimulating our lizard brains.  Our dialectic political opponents appear as Mad Max villains, so creepy and outlandish that we accept letting our children watch as their heads pop like balloons onscreen.  The identity of the comment field and twitter persona is often deliberately impersonal.

We feel a freemium video game rush.  This is Steve Pinker, this is animal psychology, this is fear and reward centers of our brains being triggered and tripped, an alt opinion ecstasy.  We feel like we have voted, we feel like we are winning, we feel like we are changing minds, we feel like British football ruffians cheering a goal.

Facebook and Google and Twitter and Microsoft and Adobe know about this "feeling foul economy", this virtual battlefield, this pretend duel.  They see the hours on Disqus and Twitter and Facebook political posts competing for porn-hours.

They must know that people are pushing each others buttons in a mosh pit of delusion.

And it must be scary.

But I will keep coming back to my smartest opponents.  People who I sometimes agree with, like @ScottAdamsSays blog, and Tucker on a good day.  Experienced debaters balance from the center without being dogmatic centrists.  And we have a moral obligation to participate.

We sharpen our skills.  We learn something important.  And I met a couple of "virtual friends" and followers, a couple of whom said "thank you".  There is some immunization from exposure.  We want our adult kids to be literate, to be exposed to all kinds of dirty and unkind thoughts, so they recognize who's out there in cyberspace, and the tricks like "absurd absolutes" (Scott Adams technique) and dodging smarminess (Tucker).  By learning to respond to them as politely as Frederick Douglas, when possible, and with John Brown's Harpers Ferry bravery when necessary.  Less violently than Brown is usually better... but the Malcom X acknowledgement of powerful reactions can leverage the Martin Luther King Jrs, if done artfully.

That's the real purpose of trying to "referee the internet".  Scott Adams blog, "How to Know When You Won A Political Debate on the Internet", rather astutely acknowledges that we are unlikely to persuade the hard core opponents who come to the comment battlefield for the blood rush of ranting.

Need breathalizers on the keyboards
But it's not all about the opponents.  We can build a reputation for integrity on Twitter.  Or we can do the opposite.

By giving a thoughtful, logical, and polite response, we can demonstrate and build a reputation for integrity.  And integrity is the most powerful persuasion tool in the arsenal.  The expert in Haiti policy and remittances vs. direct Aid may be distressed by the number of comments that join the Greek Chorus of the Angry Thunderdome.  But if he reads my comments and responses, he will know he made a positive impression on someone reasonable.  And I passed it forward, offering some relief to new Twitter follower Marie.

And now I understand the gambling addiction, buzz-fed Mad Max commentary that scares journalists and bloggers, and drives many reasonable people from the internet.  People are coming to get their emotional rocks off, feeling a false majority by saying and repeating things so rude that it scares people.  Russia is retweeting them to encourage them, hoping it will damage our society.

Here's a sample of my attempt to "referee" a conservative comment field under Scott Adams Blog yesterday.

And below is my childish attempt at humor.

Putin is
a lead
in this
Fox News

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