Wokeness? The algorithms made me do it

WARNING: this is NOT for or against political correctness.

Or social justice, or anything like that. This is ONLY about understanding what made those concepts so important today instead of, say, one or two generations earlier. Or later.

Wokeness? The algorithms made me do it /img/i-am-woke-plate.jpg
Woke? OK. But WHAT made you so woke just NOW?


What led me to ponder this point is the section of the Algorithmic Governance and Political Legitimacy paper about bureaucracy and political correctness (PC). To show you what I mean, I took the liberty to quote and mark up some paragraphs of that section. In the rest of this post, the “strike-through” parts are original text, and the bold words or sentences that follow them are what they made me think, while I was reading the paper. Links, images or whole paragraphs starting with ME:" are my own additions or comments.

The Bureaucratic Logic of Political Correctness

One reason why algorithms have become attractive to elites is that they can be used to install the automated enforcement of cut­ting‑edge social norms.

One reason why cut­ting‑edge (=ever shifting) social norms have become attractive to elites is that they happen to be things that engagement algorithms can amplify and enforce in very profitable ways.

[In early 2019] Mark Zuckerberg assured Congress that Facebook is developing AI that will detect and delete what progressives like to call “hate speech.”

Me: please note how may actually happen only by enforcing NewSpeak as ONLY language in social media

Wokeness? The algorithms made me do it /img/newspeak-fewer-and-fewer-words.jpg

Locating the authority of evolving social norms in a computer [provides objectivity], such that any reluctance to [new norms] appears irrational - as a psychological defect that requires [treatment].

And there will be no satisfying this beast, because it isn’t in fact “social norms” that will be enforced (that term suggests something settled and agreed-upon); rather it will be a state of permanent revolution in social norms.

Me: could that “permanent revolution” be an unintended, but direct and unavoidable byproduct of algorithms that must “maximize engagement” but can only do it by means of… “fatiguing, ever changing signals”?

Wokeness? The algorithms made me do it /img/wokeness-meter.jpg

Whatever else it is, wokeness is a competitive status game played in the institutions that serve as gatekeepers of the meritocracy .

Wokeness is a competitive status game that social media enforce, just because it so happens to be one of the things that maximize their profits, (see my previous comment).

[Such an environment] makes the bounds of acceptable opinion highly unstable… one is not allowed to develop confidence in the rightness of one’s own judg­ments. To be always off-balance in this way is to be more administratable.

Me: would you be surprised if “administratability” (?) and lack of confidence flourished inside platorms that make you want more and more instant gratification?

It seems clear that there is a symbiotic relationship between administrationSilicon Valley and political correctness, yet it is difficult to say which is the senior partner in the alliance.

But if we put it this way, what we are really saying is not that PC needs administrativetechnocratic enforcement but rather the reverse: the expand­ing empire of bureaucrats VCs and billionaire technocrats needs PC.

The more contentious the social and political landscape, the bigger the institutional taste for automated decision-making is likely to be.

The more profitable a social network becomes when it is contentious, the more it is likely that the automated decision-making algorithms left to run it will make it just that: contentious!

Political correctness is a regime of institutionalized insecurity, both moral and material.

Business models built on AUTOMATIC amplification of insecurity, both moral and material, AUTOMATICALLY end up institutionalizing PC (and other things, of course). First inside themselves, then in society as a whole.

My questions

Let me repeat: this is NOT an attack to political correctness, social justice and so on.

I just found me asking myself, while reading that article, if, and to which extent, PC and social justice have become so important in this particular moment of human history just because their time has finally, naturally come…

or precisely because THESE years, and not others, are the years in which a few corporations finally discovered how to make way more money from machine analysis and profiling of human behavior, instead of, for example, just selling hot dogs?

In general: which social norms become “cutting edge” only because of the availability of algorithms with an ever growing role in the economy?

Corollary/provocation: if this thesis is valid, if we end up breaking up Facebook, do we also break up political correctness?