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The democratisation of information - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.

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Capitalism has destroyed the internet, and the decentralisation of debate was a mistake.

I’ve subscribed to my fair share of platforms and apps over the last 15 years, but the only two I’ve ever paid money for were OSRS and PokémonGo. Both of which I solidly regret in hindsight. However, their pay to play model has little impact on the wider internet, as they aren’t inherently social-focused services. By far and away the biggest problem and most damage comes with for-profit social service design, and the subsequent impact it has on the quality of debate.

Take the artist formerly known as Twitter, which has announced and begun paying out advertising revenue share to verified users. Except it only applies to user ad impressions in the replies feed. And the replies feed has been tweaked to prioritise paying users. Which means that every reply section is now the same – a variety of room temperature blue ticked takes on the genius of Elon. Uniform reaction to uniform perspective. The disagreement has vanished – banished to sitting below the 500 verified replies, never to be seen by all but the most dedicated of scrollers.

It's also not just Twitter. In the past, Reddit used to display the individual upvotes and downvotes that each comment had received. Because it’s Reddit, there was plenty of disagreement, but it was typically complex, well-argued, and interesting. You could see that one point of view had +500 and -400 votes, while the opposing perspective had +400 and -500. What that told you, as the observer, is that this wasn’t cut and dried. It showed you that both sides had significant support, even if one was a little more accepted than the other. And it told those commenting that they weren’t 100% correct about everything – hence the quality debate.

Today, Reddit only shows the cumulative score. So that first comment would sit at the top of the thread on +100, and the other would be buried at the very bottom of the thread, automatically condensed at -100. The observer only sees one side. The commenters either leave feeling entirely justified in their unchallengeable +100 position, or entirely sidelined by their -100 take. And then, because people love making numbers on the screen go up, they fear the -100. They fear expressing something potentially controversial or against the run of the crowd – resulting in a barrage of generic content designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

The secondary problem is that those who previously expressed a -100 opinion get tired of being sidelined. So they stop sharing that opinion in a top level public forum like Reddit, and seek out a space where that opinion is majority accepted by the community.

The debate decentralises, the middle ground fractures, and we end up with further polarised audiences segmented into ideological echo chambers.

More about Protection Group International's Digital Investigations

Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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