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I keep hearing people talk about whether it was Facebook or Fox News or Donald Trump who led us down this deep mess of radicalization. But it's feeling more and more to me like those are all the same things. Donald Trump is the essence of a conservative radio host. Facebook hosts Fox News, Trump's decisions and tweets determine what's on Fox News which determine what he's thinking about, which controls what's happening on Facebook which informs Fox News which informs Donald Trump.

The deeper mechanism is that, if you let this self-reinforcing feedback loop run, everyone in it gets more radicalized every day. That's true on the left as well, just much less so. Why that is, is easy to speculate about, but I'm certainly not certain.

This is a real mess we're in, and I think it's important to recognize that social media is just media now. We are all influencers, and we all have a responsibility to use our creation and our attention in ways that aren't destructive.

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Good morning John. You and I are, like it or not, what some people call social media influencers.

Of course I hate this, it’s like calling a journalist a newspaper subscription salesperson...yeah they help sell newspapers, but that’s not however what they produce. On the other hand the question of what you and I and people like us do produce is complicated.

We produce value for ourselves… in the form of affirmation or status or income or creative joy. And hopefully we produce value for others as well, in the form of education or insight or connection or entertainment. And actually we started doing this at a time when income or status weren’t part of the equation.

Like nobody said, “Oh, a YouTuber...how impressive.” Even now, to me that sentence sounds ridiculous, though Youtuber is, we have ended up with this world, a high status job. People want my job. And I don’t blame them, I don’t think they’re wrong.

It’s a good job. But I started to see the problem with this back in the early 20teens, when it became clear that it was gonna be really crowded at the bottom. To get noticed, you have to be better and you have to do more.

Like Epic Meal Time was a show. And the Gregory brothers were mixing amazing music with viral videos. These things were hard to do.

But there were also ways to get noticed that weren’t as hard, they were just worse. Like prank channels started to cross lines that were definitely immoral and also, like illegal. People started to have hotter and hotter political takes and they were… rewarded for that.

One thing I think people get wrong about people who do what I do… is that when people start creating on the internet, it is never about money. The actual thing they want is to feel like they matter. They want validation, they want meaning, they want to be valuable.

And they believe because of where their attention is that online creators are valuable, and so they want to be one so that they can definitely matter. And when you’re in a society that, in my opinion, has done a terrible job of appreciating many if not most humans, more and more people are going to want to push towards that feeling of mattering. In other words, for new creators, it’s never about money, it’s about affirmation.

And it’s about status. There are a lot of angles to view this moment from, and I think that they are all important. I am a creator, I make stuff on the internet, so that’s my perspective.

And when I see every other hand during a siege of the capitol building holding up a phone,  on a Facebook live stream,  I see insurrectionists... see terrorists...... I see white supremacists… but I also see influencers. I see content creators.

And not side by side. they are the same person. I see people who are both ends of the creator/audience relationship. Their ideas get more radical because that makes better content that gets more engagement.

And then they consume more content like that, to inform their content that they’re going to create, and also because it helps them feel righteous for creating the stuff they’re making. It’s a feedback loop that can only radicalize. Now this isn’t 100% new, it’s been happening in radio and TV for decades.

If you can make more money by being more radical instead of spending more money on quality, people are gonna do that. But when it’s crowded at the bottom and people are searching for meaning, and attention and status are the only currency, and when more and more outrageous content is getting more and more attention, we end up in an arms race of radicalization. One that is pulling radio and TV and, yes, politicians, along with it.

I worry sometimes that understanding something can lead to excusing it. Not what is happening here. Ways to feel like you matter include (and often include) white supremacy.

They also include believing that you are an integral part of bringing down an international cabal of child murderers. If you feel like you are one of the people in the world who understands the link between 5G and COVID, it’s hard to deny that you are important. Especially when you’re getting a lot of engagement on your social media posts about it.

I’m not saying they don’t believe any of these things… I think that they do, because it’s very easy to believe things that make you feel good, that is true of them, it’s also true of me! It’s true of you. It’s also extremely hard to abandon ideas you are appreciated and loved for.

So if I have insight here to add, it’s this: the words “social media influencer” turn out to be representing a much bigger, and much scarier thing than we thought. John, I’ll see you on Tuesday.