Tuesday, November 15, 2022

"Operant conditioning" via Twitter (or "Twitter poisoning")

I thought this was interesting and perceptive:

Behavioral changes occur as a side effect of something called operant conditioning, which is the underlying mechanism of social media addiction. This is the core mechanism analogous to the role alcohol plays in alcoholism.


In early operant conditioning, pioneered by famous behaviorists like B.F. Skinner, animals were given positive and negative feedback in the form of treats and electric shocks. The behavior of each individual animal was monitored so that the stimulus given was constantly optimized to a purpose. A similar scheme targets people through their phones today.

In the case of digital platforms, the purpose is usually “engagement,” a concept that is hard to distinguish from addiction. People receive little positive and negative jolts of social feedback — getting followed or liked, or being ignored or even humiliated. Before social media, that kind of tight feedback loop had rarely been present in human communications outside of laboratories or marriages. (This is part of why marriage can be hard, I suspect.)....


What do I think are the symptoms of Twitter poisoning? There is a childish insecurity, where before there was pride. Instead of being above it all...the modern social media-poisoned alpha male whines and frets. This works because his followers are similarly poisoned and can relate so well.


I’ll suggest a hypothesis about the childishness that comes to the surface in social media addicts. When we were children, we all had to negotiate our way through the jungle of human power relationships at the playground. When we feel those old humiliations, anxieties and sadisms again as adults — over and over, because the algorithm has settled on that pattern as a powerful way to engage us — habit formation restimulates old patterns that had been dormant. We become children again, not in a positive, imaginative sense, but in a pathetic way....


Twitter poisoning is a little like alcoholism or gambling addiction, in that the afflicted lose all sense of proportion about their own powers. They can come to believe they have almost supernatural abilities. Little boys fantasize about energy beams shooting from their fingertips.


The degree of narcissism becomes almost absolute. Everything is about what someone else thinks of you....


Law in Cyberspace, Of Academic Interest, Richard W. Painter | Permalink