Cleaning Toxic Pollution from Social Media

Jordan Peterson recently spoke with Piers Morgan on this topic (and related matters) in the video above.  Below is a lightly edited abridged transcript for those who prefer reading. (PM is Piers Morgan and JP is Jordan Peterson).  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

PM:  Jordan, it’s good to see you again. I was absolutely astonished (maybe I shouldn’t have been) by the reaction to our last interview worldwide. The sheer volume of people that watched the whole interview–the way the clips were disseminated on tick tock, on Facebook and on Twitter–it was a really interesting Insight actually into a whole world that doesn’t even involve conventional television anymore

JP: Well I’m still continually surprised about it but I think it shows that there’s really no way that Legacy TV in some real sense can compete with the absolutely wide open Frontier of online video distribution, where the cost is low and people can access it everywhere. It’s fundamentally the consequence of a Technological Revolution, and there’s all sorts of good things about that. And one of those would be the ability to widely disperse complex and sophisticated information, which YouTube has been particularly good at in the long form.

But it’s also problematic in that it produces all sorts of alterations and social behavior, and some of them very dangerous, many of which we’re only just beginning to understand.

PM: Right, Elon Musk has just bought Twitter and it’s creating a huge furor obviously, in many different ways. He’s admitted he’s going to do lots of things in the next few months and may get some wrong and have to try something else. And he’s going to try and work out a way of making a sustainable business model. But also he wants to bring back what he perceives to be genuine free speech on the platform. Is it possible Jordan, do you think that he can do that or are we now so entrenched in tribalism, particularly on social media that it’s almost impossible.

JP: Well you couldn’t have picked a better day to talk about this with me because I just got a paper sent to me by Jonathan Haidt. He didn’t write the paper but it’s published in a journal called Personality and Individual Differences. And it’s an examination of the personality traits associated with, let’s say, excessive and self-promoting internet usage. And if you don’t mind I’d like to read you a couple of the descriptions of what the people found, because it’s so absolutely spot on and relevant.

I don’t think we are descending into tribalism, but what’s happening in the virtualization of the world is enabling people who behave in a particular anti-social way in a self-aggrandizing and self-promoting anti-social way. I’ll just read you the descriptions that are taken directly from this paper. So it was an actual study of online Behavior.

Women characterized by high self-centered antagonism, neurotic narcissism, Machiavellian views Machiavellian tactics. So that’s manipulation, meanness, dis-inhibition, physical sadism and indirect sadism used Instagram for a longer time and more frequently than did men.

Honesty, humility and conscientiousness was associated with a shorter Facebook usage time

Women high in agenic extroversion, so that’s manipulative self-promotion and indirect sadism, used Facebook for a longer time and more frequently than men.

I’ve thought for a while that as we virtualize the world, we’re enabling the small percentage of people (it’s usually about three percent in general populations) who use manipulation and reputation savaging and denigration and self-promotion.

So the genuinely Psychopathic types dominate the social conversation and spew their poisonous and manipulative Venom into the public domain. And not only with no fear of being stopped and no inhibition, which is almost all applied socially but also being monetized and promoted by the people who run the social media channels.

Every society in history has had to contend with a small percentage of people
who will utilize all the benefits of society only for themselves.

They had to contend with the fact that those people if not brought under control can demolish the structure of the entire society. I think the polarization that we’re feeling is a consequence of their untrammeled expression online, Instagram, Facebook and in online comment forums like Twitter.

PM: That stuff you read out seemed to be gender specific to women but presumably also applies in other ways to men as well on social media

JP: Oh yes, I think the reason that it applied in this study in women is because Instagram involves heavy use of images. And there are reasons to assume because of that it attracts women who are directed towards short-term impulsive mating strategies, another sign of impulsive anti-social and Psychopathic Behavior.

I think you’d see the same thing in men. In fact I’ve been talking to psychologists, great psychologists to make sure that I’m on the right track about those who post repeatedly, say in online forums, especially in relationship to comments. And you certainly see that same pattern of sadism, machiavellianism psychopathy and narcissism characterizing with the Men who who are also incentivized to use what used to be classic female anti-social strategies to advance themselves in the reputational hierarchy.

PM: But the bottom line is: there is a small percentage of people generating a vast amount of noise.  What impact is that having on society, do you think?

JP: Well I think it it skews our perceptions of what normal people are like. We assume what we’re getting when you sample the world, when you’re walking through it, you you assume that you’re getting an unbiased representation of the things going on around you. And when you’re on an online platform and reading comments, you also think you’re seeing something like a sample of public opinion.

But it’s not you know. Because if 10 strangers came up you randomly in the street, then you’d have a bit of a sample of what people randomly think. But online behavior online isn’t random and the people who post aren’t aren’t precisely normal

I have been talking with Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge about this. And they might know more about it than anybody else in the world. It’s pretty clear to them that the people who are dominating online comment sections, and especially true of the people who post anonymously, and there’s other markers for for this sort of behavior as well. They dominate the political discourse

What’s happening in some sense is that we have a new form of pollution, that’s also corporate sponsored, and it’s pollution of the domain of public discourse.

The pollution occurs because the social media companies are either enabling or failing to control those known in the popular parlance as Trolls. But they’re not comical trolls you know, using derision in some cute way and and having their say in the Free Speech domain. They’re really poisonous individuals and they’re poisoning the entire domain.

PM: What can Elon Musk do about it, if you were advising him on this? I mean ironically at the moment you’re not on Twitter? Would you do you want to come back now that musk is in charge? Secondly what would you advise him to do about this issue of the trolls and so on?

JP: Well I’m going to be talking of precisely this to some of the political people over the next few weeks. I’ve discussed this with twangy and height to make sure that I’m not off on a personal tangent. The first thing I would say: There’s no excuse for including the anonymous posters with the real human beings. Social media platforms who have a certain reach, maybe a million subscribers, whatever figure is appropriate, should be required to implement known customer laws. And that the genuine verified human beings who are posting and are willing to abide by their words with their personal reputation should be put in one comment section. And then the online Anonymous cowardly narcissistic pathological troll demons who are polluting the public discourse should be put in a different comment section. So if you want to go to hell and visit the troll demons and see what they have. Dispute you can, but otherwise you can be among the normal human beings engaged in normal civil human discourse. That would separate the bloody Psychopaths from the bulk of decent normal people. You know 97 percent of people aren’t Psychopathic and so we are talking about a small minority here, but they have the upper hand.

Look it’s often the case that people in the industry that you’re in, and this would be true for politics and journalism, as well anything with a public face, are more likely to be extroverted and also more likely to be somewhat disagreeable. And those those personality traits can tilt you towards a style of callous exploitation. But there are other personality factors like conscientiousness that mediate against that. And so people who are hard-working and reliable, for example, aren’t parasitic in the same way that the classic psychopath would be.

So it’s complicated and it isn’t the case that extroversion and even a certain degree of disagreeableness in and of themselves are dangerous. But they lead like everybody’s led to Temptation in the direction that’s in accordance with their temperament. And the fact that you are a public-facing person and that you like that would tilt you in one direction of potential temptation.

But that’s not necessarily diagnostic. It probably is the case that politics and journalism and entertainment attract a disproportionate number of machiavellians and Psychopaths because of the of the status that goes along with those Enterprises. But it’s not diagnostic: it doesn’t mean that if you’re in that industry and you’ve had a long career that you are one. That’s also another marker for failure or for lack of psychopathy because in the normal world, Psychopaths exploit and they get a reputation for doing so quite quickly, and then people avoid them and stop working with them. So it doesn’t work over the medium to long run as a general rule.

PM: Jordan, let’s talk about Donald Trump. What is he is he a narcissist, a sociopath, a psychopath, all of those things, none of them?

JP: I don’t think he’s a psychopath because he’s been successful in repeated Enterprises over long periods of time, and he has a variety of people who are remain intensely loyal to him. Now he’s definitely extroverted to a very great degree, and he’s definitely disagreeable. So that gives him some of the traits that are associated with those personality features.

But from what I’ve been able to understand, he’s also very conscientious and hardworking, for example. So that’s a real mitigating factor. I think it’s very easy to demonize someone that you don’t approve of. Certainly Trump is being subject to more demonization than any political leader in the west that I can remember in my entire lifetime, including Richard Nixon.

So that’s also set him back on his heels and made him somewhat embattled and defensive, which I don’t think did any great things for for his personality.

So I think it’s a mistake to assume that that Trump is a psychopath. I think it’s a big mistake to assume that someone potent is a psychopath. T he evidence suggests that you don’t want to throw those labels around casually. And you know, how could it be Trump was Psychopathic, since he did a pretty good job of keeping the United States clear of War for four years. That’s pretty damn remarkable, and he did have a big hand in promoting the Abraham Peace Accords, also pretty remarkable.

Those aren’t the sorts of things that you would expect from the psychopath. He also seems to have a pretty good hand with the working class. So I I don’t think those are reasonable diagnostic labels to place on someone.

Whether or not Donald Trump should be president, it would be good for Americans to sort out in the public sphere debated intensely and subject to an election. It might be very interesting to see him put himself forward on the Republican ticket. If I had my druthers, and I say this I hope with due care, I would rather see someone like DeSantis step forward, who shares some of that forthright strength let’s say that characterizes Trump at his best. But seems to be a more cautious administrator and a less divisive figure. Because Trump, for whatever virtues he might have, and I think he has the virtues of a Washington Outsider, I think that his behavior in the political realm raises the political temperature to a dangerous degree.

PM: There’s somebody else who may well have presidential Ambitions and has been the subject of a lot of negativity: Meghan Markle. Prince Harry’s wife. She seems to perennially play the victim, the female victim of all outrages, and your name got dragged into this. Let’s take a listen to what she said.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called crazy or hysterical. Or what about nuts, insane, out of your mind, completely irrational. I don’t think that men can control crazy women. The use of these labels has been drilled into us from movies and TV, from friends and family and even from random strangers.  And the fact is no one wants this label.

What did you make of that Jordan–to be suddenly appearing on Meghan Markle’s podcast as a villain?

JP: The first thing: I’m calling women crazy. Well the first thing I make of it is that her voice drips with the same falsehood as does the voice of Kamala Harris. It’s this sanctimonious, full compassionate talking down to her audience, and trying to be sure that we’re all really on the same compassionate page here. And we’re all being victimized by terrible forces that are arrayed against us. And none of that’s really fair.

You played a bit of a clip from me talking to Camille Paglia the literary critic. I do believe that it is very difficult to control female anti-social Behavior of the type that’s been pilloried as hysterical. And there is no shortage of clinical evidence to support precisely that. It’s very difficult for women to control female anti-social behavior. And females who are anti-social exhibit that feminine pattern of reputation savaging under the guise of Compassionate Care.

It’s extraordinarily destructive and so I stand by my words. And I do think it scales online because you can use an anonymous reputation savaging to unbelievably great effect online with absolutely no punishment for your sins so to speak. That is certainly one of the things that’s contributing to so-called Cancel Culture, and there’s no shortage of that coming from the female side.

Now men can engage in exactly the same strategies and they do so online and that’s enabled. It’s definitely seen with men which I’ve said before. And I do believe the ever-present threat of the potential for physical violence keeps men from doing that to each other most of the time in person.  But all that disappears online, which means that those who are prone to do such things: to use corrosive and denigrating derision, for example, and reputation savaging can have a free hand at it. And that includes no shortage of women. And women are very often the targets of that behavior from their own fellows so to speak.

PM: We’ve talked about Trump and Meghan Markle. I wanted to just ask you again about Elon Musk, what you thought of him as a character?

JP: Well I know people who know him very well and have worked with him very closely and these are very solid people; extremely competent and extremely creative and they’re admirers of Musk. I talked with my brother-in-law Jim Keller who’s one of the world’s great chip engineers and he worked very closely with Musk for years. He believes that in many ways Musk is exactly what you’d think he was. He’s a genius, a Visionary genius; but he’s also someone who’s very very good at implementing. He’s very good at running companies as you can tell because he has a multitude of impossibly successful companies. And so he goes into a company and he cleans house and puts things in order and makes things work efficiently.

Maybe he can do that with Twitter. I hope he can because Musk is doing all sorts of things that appear to be useful and difficult and it would be a catastrophe to see him derailed in his efforts. I dipped into Twitter this morning. It instantly struck me the same way I was struck the last time I was on Twitter. It’s such a den of pathology that I think using it is psychologically damaging. If it’s possible for Musk to get the the trolls under control (and they’re not trolls, they’re Psychopathic Machiavellian sadistic narcissists), then it’s possible that the platform might be useful. I like to share information and I like to follow people to see what they were up to; A lot of the people that I’ve met over the years. But man it’s a snake pit

PM: Should people be compelled to wear poppies for example, and I guess this goes to the wider thing about General displays of signaling your virtue in any way that you choose. Should anyone be compelled to whatever the cause whether it’s a black Square on Instagram when George Floyd died, or a poppy for Armistice Day or so on.

JP: I think that that compulsion especially in matters of public policy is a sign of bad policy. If you can’t get people on board voluntarily by motivating them with the proper story, then you’re a poor leader. So I certainly would be opposed to anything approximating legal compulsion. Now we use social compulsion frequently to produce consensus and to enforce it. that’s never going to go away and there’s some utility in that.

But my general take on the world Is that people should be allowed to go to hell in a hand basket pretty much any way they choose once they’re adults, although they might be encouraged not to do that and invited not to do that. But I’m not a fan of compulsion for any reason, it is a sign of bad policy. If you and I can’t play together voluntarily, then we don’t have a very good relationship and it’s not going to be efficient and productive forced to continue.

See also American Soviet Mentality

Americans have discovered the way in which fear of collective disapproval breeds self-censorship and silence, which impoverish public life and creative work. The double life one ends up leading—one where there is a growing gap between one’s public and private selves—eventually begins to feel oppressive. For a significant portion of Soviet intelligentsia (artists, doctors, scientists), the burden of leading this double life played an important role in their deciding to emigrate.

Those who join in the hounding face their own hazards. The more loyalty you pledge to a group that expects you to participate in rituals of collective demonization, the more it will ask of you and the more you, too, will feel controlled. How much of your own autonomy as a thinking, feeling person are you willing to sacrifice to the collective? What inner compromises are you willing to make for the sake of being part of the group? Which personal relationships are you willing to give up?

The practice of collective condemnation feels like an assertion of a culture that ultimately tramples on the individual and creates an oppressive society. Whether that society looks like Soviet Russia, or Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or Castro’s Cuba, or today’s China, or something uniquely 21st-century American, the failure of institutions and individuals to stand up to mob rule is no longer an option we can afford.

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