Dissidence when governed by data

Over the past year or so, there has been many cases of the social media platforms banning or closing accounts of particular people who have been expressing dissident views.    The stated justification is for some violation of terms of service but it appears that the other violators are not similarly punished.   The ones getting terminated are those who coincidentally present views that challenge the mainstream views with often very different views and with compelling arguments that are not easily refuted.

With the recent pandemic episode, there are rumors of silencing or discrediting dissidents of government positions, particularly out of China, but also within various states within USA.   A recent example is the Minnesota protests and the response of the governor to describe them as reckless radicals.   In other states, there are people being detained or at least harassed by police for disobeying stay-at-home orders from the governor.

So far I have found much content that challenges the official narrative about the disease ranging from disagreements about the numbers and ratios to even disagreement about whether the disease exists at all.   In popular media sites, their content is usually accompanied by a disclaimer advertisement by the CDC, WHO, or some wikipedia article that claims to have trusted information about the situation.   I presume that the content is not being hidden, but I don’t know what I can’t see.

One of the strategies for maintaining the official narrative is to flood the platforms with multiple channels showing the same or very similar content making the dissident views much harder to find.   This is very apparent with Google when searching on a topic and finding many pages of a large number of different sites but each one basically saying the same thing.   I recall long ago seeing much more variety of content in Google searches at least by the second page but I attribute that to the fact that there were simply fewer publicly searchable sites at that time.

I find search engines to be much less useful now when even the tenth page is showing basically the same choices of content as the first page.   Even when I include a lot of distinct key words unlikely to be in an multiple sites, I still get the same results as if Google is ignoring the extra terms in the weighting of the results.

I don’t think this is suppression of content but instead just a flooding of content making the more relevant content much further back in the search results.   I also think their search algorithms have changed so that it chooses which of my search terms are more important than others, similar to like the earlier versions ignoring words like “the” and “a”.   Now, they are ignoring meaningful words that just happen to be rarely associated with the most popularly searched words.

I want to find the rare take on some topic.   I assume that everyone has exhausted the popular take on some topic.   I may have some opinion on the popular topics but I am not interested in talking about it.   I want to talk about things that very few others are talking about.

That’s why this blog keeps talking about a different form of government based on data instead of science.   Very few people are talking about it and virtually no one uses the term dedomenocracy and yet when searching for my content, it never shows up at all.   Apparently, the new search algorithms are optimized to talk about popular topics only, leading to cycle that makes those topics even more popular.

I strongly suspect the recent widespread acceptance that the COVID-19 pandemic being so dangerous is the result of that being the conclusions of each of the first several pages of search results in Google.   The modern search ranking algorithms may be misleading us into thinking the situation is worse than it may actually be.

I do suspect that the various social media and search platforms have been carefully designing their search algorithms to prepare for the present election season in an attempt to avoid a repeat in the perceived failure of the last season that allowed search algorithms to artificially give prominence to fringe views.    Part of the preparation for the filing season is the goal to make it more difficult to find more extreme views from the center view of modern governance.

The algorithm designers did not anticipate that there would be a pandemic presenting a more urgent topic for investigation than comparing the political platforms for the upcoming election.

Part of the exaggerated response to the pandemic could be a result of those search algorithms giving highest trust to organizations like the CDC and WHO representing already established science based on theoretical pandemics instead of the unique and yet-to-be-understood details of this particular pandemic.   If we later find that our reaction in recent months were an over reaction it may be because our search engines preferentially kept directing us to follow some simulation-model of a worst case scenario.

More generally, I do feel there is a qualitative difference in what kind of information we can find in modern Internet as compared to what we could find a decade or more ago.   It seems to me that I was able to find more diverse information when I was much younger.   I recall the 1990s being particularly fascinating in the diversity of content I could find with even one word searches.   Now, I get the pages of nearly identical results with searches of ten words highly unlikely to occur in more than one article.    Something has changed.

I speculate that the search algorithms have evolved.   They started out as straight-forward data calculations of rankings based on pattern matching.   The last few years and the last election in particular has motivated the search algorithm designer to infuse the algorithm with some kind of intelligence to prefer trusted and authoritative sources or interpretations.    As a result, now the search results are what we really should have asked for, while earlier results were exactly what we asked for.

I liked it better in the past precisely because I cherished finding something I didn’t think I wanted to know.

In summary, the modern Internet itself has evolved to be more consistent with the same enlightenment foundation we use for our government.   The search results are more consistent with the enlightenment based government that places trust in that we know the truth from science that has been approved by the select few operating in government agencies.    This convergence of Internet with government will lead to more consistent government from election to election.

The same maturation re-enforces the government agency guidance for things like pandemic response thus bringing us to the current unprecedented policies of quarantining the entire healthy population despite the inevitably disastrous destruction of the economy especially among the middle and lower classes.

I do feel like we lost something very valuable that the Internet once offered us with the original concept of the world-wide-web with hyperlinked references leading to tangents to tangents that ended up with very intriguing speculative thinking.   Now all the searches and their references keep looping around similar content with rarely any tangential discussions reachable by accident.

The older only-data type search ranking often led to intriguing content that from a government perspective would be considered to be dissenting views but because it was retrieved from a data search it lacked this political interpretation.   It was just a data search.   There is no implication of political dissent when the searches are just about data.

Lately the searching and site policies have injected additional intelligence into the user’s chosen search.   We are getting results that we really want as guessed by this added intelligence.   This intelligence is usually in the form of scientific consensus and that consensus is based on authoritative sources and those sources are from government agencies.

This sequence of adding science to interpret search terms relies on recognizing authoritative sources of science and that often leads to the government.   Perhaps unintentionally the search ranking algorithms or the content we are permitted to discover from our search terms have become politicized.   When we search for something, the search engine assumes we want the scientific answer and the best source of scientific answers is from government agencies are government-funded institutions.

Injecting the presumption that we must want the scientific answer leads us to only the government approved results.   Thus when we search from various angles on the topic of COVID-19 we keep getting the same results from the government: this is particularly contagious disease with extremely terrible consequences for those infected.   Dissenting views from scientists outside of government are either unlikely to be found or will be found with immediately adjacent results from the government-approved channels that specifically discredit those dissents.   They call the latter to be Fact Checking but it is really a deference to science over data.

As I imagine my fantasy government of data and urgency, something that stands out to me is that such a government does not really have dissenters in the same sense we use the terms today.   My fantasy is that the government focuses on collecting data most of the time and only acts when there is some urgency.    Such a government prioritizes recent observations of the entire expanse of society over previously approved scientific models in order to act something very quickly but also very briefly to address some urgency.

This government has no pretense of knowing the right answer so it can take advantage of all the available observations.   It also has no need for knowledge of some permanent truth because its policies are necessarily short-lived and focused primarily on reducing the current urgency — either to solve the problem, or to condition the population to accept that the problem is not as urgent as first feared.

A big difference between my fantasy government by data and urgency and the current governments by presumed knowledge of scientifically proven truth is that the latter can not tolerate change.   Changes such as a new virus or climate change are things that the science-based government must eliminate in order to preserve the Truth already known,

In contrast, the fantasy data-driven government has no bias one way or the other about change.   Its focus instead is on addressing the urgency that the change causes.   The solution for the data-driven government is to adapt to change, to take advantage of the opportunities that change offers and to minimize the downsides.    Such a government would never make a commitment to eliminate the unexpected change.

We are now witnessing the consequence of the current styled government facing an unexpected change.   The science dictates that this is something bad that must be eliminated.   As a result, the government is forced to commit every resource to eliminate this new virus by shutting down the government to prevent its spread, to commit to developing quickly some vaccination that must be applied globally and must accept side-effect casualties in order to eliminate this virus from the entire human population (and any host reservoirs).

It is this commitment that the government must also take care to control the messaging to the population in order to keep that population compliant with this goal.   It is this certainty in purpose and long term commitment that defines a single truth that everyone must accept.   As a result such a government cannot tolerate dissenters.   Dissenters must be disappeared.

My fantasy government would never make that kind of commitment.   Because it is focused on recent data instead of science, it has no opinion on the change itself.   Instead it’s focus is on adapting the population to the change.   In this case, that adaptation would take the following approaches:

  1. Improve capacity to handle the new cases
  2. Develop improved treatments to make the new cases more tolerable
  3. Condition the population to tolerate the new normal that is different from what they knew before

The fantasy government works on short term goals only and only when the urgency demands action.   As this pandemic plays out, there will be multiple points of making new decisions.   At each successive point, the new urgency is defined by the survivors.   The people who have since died are no longer a consideration for the later actions.

In contrast our current government is committed for perhaps 2 years to solve a problem that would have killed many of the people the government originally hoped to save.   Even when those losses are in the past the government would not be satisfied until it finds the vaccine and administers it to the global population in a way it wish it could have done years before.   By the time the vaccination is complete, the people it would have saved would already be lost and the current population would have lost interest in this pandemic because they have more pressing problems of poverty and civil war.

Poverty and civil war are unavoidable necessary consequence of government by science.

Government by data and urgency will follow the data to avoid poverty and civil war.   Learning to live with the pandemic with treatments and accepting a higher death rate due to natural causes is preferable of dealing with cascading catastrophes of destroyed economies, poverty, starvation, and world-wide civil wars.

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