Between trolls, bots and influencers: Eva Menasse takes stock of the “anger amplification machine” of the Internet in her new book. It provides a revealing analysis of digital communities that are becoming increasingly aggressive. In the interview she talks about what can be said against them.
Eva Menasse, born in Vienna in 1970, is a former journalist and now a writer and essayist. Her novels and short stories have received numerous awards. She lives in Berlin.
SRF: What do you have against the Internet?
Eva Menasse: Nothing. It offers great opportunities. But at the same time, digital mass communication has also wreaked enormous havoc on people. Social media has created a parallel world in which we have all become nastier, more merciless and unable to compromise. This in turn rubs off on the analogue world.
Social media platforms are anger amplification machines. They poison public space.
Facebook or X (formerly Twitter) were supposedly invented to maintain friendships. What’s left of it?
That was a lie from the start. They were created to increase the wealth of their owners. And what is the best way to do this? By getting people addicted. The most common apps are designed like drugs. They stimulate the release of dopamine and target the reward center in the brain. Users stay online the longest when their aggression is triggered. Social media platforms are anger amplification machines. They poison public space.
In your book you compare the behavior on these portals to gladiator games.
Yes. What is happening on social media has little in common with civil discussions in the Roman forum or in the agora of Athens. I see parallels to the animal hunts or gladiator games in ancient Rome. These spectacles channeled the discontent of the masses, directing anger away from those in power and directing it at random, expendable victims. A similar mechanism is at work on the Internet today.
Neither Brexit nor the election of Trump would have been possible without the disinformation methods of digital communication, you say.
You have to honor the truth and point out that Barack Obama already worked with controlled election campaigns on Facebook. Certain content is only shown to certain people – a deeply undemocratic process. Everyone never sees the same thing. Like before, when we all looked at the same poster on the street and maybe discussed it. The posters were also propaganda, but what Steve Bannon and the Trumpists have concocted in their digital witch kitchens puts the propaganda lies of old to shame.
Basically, the medieval pillory was reintroduced
But it’s not just the right-wingers that you attack in your book. “The Woken” also get their fat.
The wokeness movement in its extreme forms is an absolute ideological aberration, like the K groups in the 1970s. It’s not just the right-wing radicals who are susceptible to inhumane ideologisms, the left-wing ones can do the same. If a dozen politically correct zealots brand someone transphobic or anti-Semitic on Basically, the medieval pillory was reintroduced.
Short review: “Say everything and nothing” by Eva Menasse
The internet and social media portals are making us nastier, more aggressive and hateful – and are chopping up social coexistence as a whole. This is the central thesis of Eva Menasse’s new book. Brilliant in style and caustic in content, the Austrian author exposes the story of the “great democratization machine” of the Internet for what it is: a fairy tale.
Now the anti-social media is in the world. What to do?
We will not be able to avoid restrictions in one form or another. This must be done in an internationally coordinated manner. I don’t see myself in the role of a problem solver, but rather an analyst. Whereby: The solution to a problem must begin with the correct analysis.
The interview was conducted by Günter Kaindlstorfer.
Eva Menasse: “Saying everything and nothing – On the state of debate in digital modernity,” Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2023.
The cultural highlights of the week in the newsletter
Discover inspiration, stories and treasures from the world of culture: every Sunday, straight to your inbox. Subscribe to newsletter now.
Radio SRF 2 Kultur, look at the features, November 2nd, 2023, 7:50 a.m.; Günter Kaindlstorfer