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When we live between the trolls and the politically correct

 In recent decades, the digital revolution has profoundly changed human society, with the flood of information making truth increasingly difficult to discern. Information warfare by deliberately creating and disseminating false information has increasingly become the norm in the public sphere, which not only causes public cognitive confusion, but also catalyzes and intensifies social division.

How to make the human mind and social order from the interference and destruction of massive information garbage has become an urgent problem to be solved. As the famous 20th century poet T.S. Eliot said in his poem "The Rock" : "Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

In his book Knowledge Constitution: Defending Truth, American scholar Rauch pointed out that the essence of the above problems is social epistemology, that is, society has reached a certain public standard on how to identify, protect and develop objective and true knowledge. This is a fundamental question that every country and civilization cannot avoid. Historically, the common solution has been to resort to the authority of oracles, scriptures or monarchs, which means that establishing and forcing the public to accept standards of objective truth through dictatorship or violence is the norm in conservative and closed traditional societies. However, after the invention of printing by Gutenberg in the 15th century, the human society experienced an explosive growth of information from Europe, leading to violent social unrest and religious wars. In response, the intellectuals began to accept a radical idea, refused to oracle, scripture, and the authority of the monarch, the objective knowledge of the public standard delivery to a decentralized, community network throughout the rest of the world, through the scientific revolution and the enlightenment, gradually formed a system of identification of objective knowledge of the rules - rauch referred to as the "constitution of knowledge".

Although not a constitution in the legal sense, the knowledge constitution also has its own checks and balances (peer review), separation of powers (specialization), governing bodies (scientific societies and professional bodies), and voting (citation and confirmation). The constitution of knowledge has two basic rules. The first rule is freedom of speech. Any hypothesis can be put forward. The second rule is that a hypothesis is qualified as knowledge only if it has survived the test of doubt and criticism. If it is disproved by new doubts and criticisms in the future, it is no longer knowledge. This is like hu Shi's "bold hypothesis, careful verification", but the "verification" here is always open to the possibility of being falsified.

Social networks that follow the intellectual constitution are not limited to academics and scientists, but also to the press, the courts, law enforcement and the intelligence community. All evidence-based professions require testing and proving competing hypotheses, with members responsible for their own mistakes as well as for others.

The results of the knowledge Constitution are striking, mainly in three aspects: first, it produces an explosion of knowledge by effectively organizing a mass of minds to solve a mass of problems; Second, it ended the practice of reaching social consensus through the expulsion and persecution of heresy by forcing people to persuade others with evidence and argument. Third, it promotes knowledge pluralism and freedom of thought by allowing everyone to participate in the process of building knowledge.

The natural enemy of intellectual constitution is "troll", which is a popular word in English in recent years. Its original meaning is "troll", and now mainly refers to a person or behavior who posts inflammatory and provocative information on the Internet in order to stir up confusion, debate and fierce reactions of others, and attract others' attention. The Chinese counterpart is "troll". Ordinary lies and propaganda try to make people believe something, but trolls aim to make people not believe everything. Trolls not only spread fake news, but attack real news and smear real sources, unleashing a torrent of lies and half-truths piled on top of each other. Trolls don't need to consider persuasion, or anything more than superficial credibility, it just needs to be addictive. Like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading. Trolls are anti-social and reject any constructive goals. What it does is spread confusion, undermine trust and make it impossible to be sure that anything is true and that anyone is right.

To understand the trolls' epistemology, Rauch points out, think of the intellectual constitution as a funnel. At the broad end of the spectrum, millions of hypotheses are proposed by millions of people every day, and only a tiny fraction will ever prove true. We need to deal with these hypotheses through a large-scale, socially distributed trial-and-error process, with very few getting past the narrow end of the funnel. There, often a few years later, a social valve incorporated the surviving hypothesis into the books of knowledge. The person who successfully introduced a hypothesis into the books received prestige and rewards; Those who follow the rules without making breakthroughs earn respect as members of an intellectual community; Those who flout the rules are ignored.

It is important to know the balance of the constitution. To protect the wide end of the funnel, censorship was not allowed, and no one could ever be convicted of any hypothesis. At the same time, to protect the narrow end of the funnel, influence needs to be regulated. The rootless hypothesis is often ignored. You can believe and say whatever you want, but if your hypotheses haven't been checked and tested by others, or you don't submit them for review, you can't expect others to post, care about, or even take notice of your ideas. Striking this balance is difficult and requires a lot of implicit social cooperation. An intellectual constitution requires both a high degree of tolerance and a high degree of discipline, neither of which is easy to achieve.

The hallmark of trolls is their insistence that all fact checkers and hypothesis testers are false, denigrate the possibility of social reality verification and open the door to disordered information flooding in. By flooding the world with lies and disinformation, they not only obfuscate what is right and what is wrong, they smash the standards of what is right and wrong, commandeering public attention with a barrage of disinformation and hijacking the public conversation.

The basic norms of knowledge constitution are: objective and true knowledge exists, the pursuit of objective knowledge needs to be verified by social networks, untested hypotheses are not knowledge, and so on. Trolls violate all of these norms by mocking authenticity, throwing dirt, destroying certifications, and making fun of tests. Proponents of an intellectual constitution defend their values, but when they do, they "feed" the trolls, drawing public attention and allowing them to double down. In the digital age, the devil is higher than a foot.

First, social media has created an ultra-low-cost platform for misinformation to spread. Mobilizing an army of human and robot trolls is easy and cheap. For a few hundred dollars, anyone in the United States can buy thousands of old, trust-looking social media accounts, or millions of email addresses. Moreover, by using cheap crowdsourcing services that are widely available on the open web, anyone can hire a large number of "writers" who can help promote any message or ideology on a massive scale.


Second, software has learned to hack people's brains. Complex algorithms and fine-grained data allow for subtle adjustments and positioning of information and images, making it difficult for the vast majority of people to distinguish between real and fake, thus brainwashing them. The future will soon see weaponised AI propaganda, with fake content tailored to specific groups of people and delivered by hordes of robots.

Third, the click-through economy creates a business model in which misinformation can be profitable. Ads from Google, Meta and other Internet companies monetize page views, thereby monetizing anything that generates clicks, regardless of whether it's true or not. At the same time, the business model of traditional media also collapsed, and the economic advantage of real news disappeared as accurate reporting became much more expensive to produce than false information.

Finally, politicians and even state machines weaponize trolls, copying and prompting fake news with spontaneous trolls and bots, creating a deliberate echo effect that completely disorients society.

Former US President Donald Trump is a typical troll. According to a Washington Post fact-check, he has told 30,573 public lies during his four years as president. Trump, who honed his skills over decades as an opportunist manipulating journalists, appearing on reality shows and more before becoming president, rose to political prominence when he repeatedly publicly questioned in 2011 that Then-President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore not a citizen. It's a complete myth, but that's how Trump gained his first political following.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump used provocative statements to grab media and public attention. His campaign adviser Bannon declared: "Democrats don't matter. The real opposition is the media, and the way to deal with it is to drown it in garbage." Rauch points out that this statement is crude, but there is no more succinct and accurate summary of modern information warfare. The Trump campaign clearly understood how to brainwash the public with digital age communication technology, which was a key factor that led to Trump winning the White House.

In the past, the norms and procedures of an intellectual constitution could marginalize disinformation and absurd hypotheses and not undermine science and society, but it could not marginalize the president of the United States. As president of the United States, Trump can set the agenda and dominate the news, turn the White House into a factory of lies, and convene a public commission to pursue fact-finding investigations based on his completely fabricated claims. Trump and his propaganda machine lie in order to deprive the public of the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. When there is no common truth in the society, the democratic system cannot function, and American democracy is in crisis, so that Trump can seize power exclusively.

Can the trolls win? Rauch points out that trolls are a rabble, and intellectual constitutions have institutions. Creating knowledge is a specialised and structured affair that requires time, money, skills, expertise and complex social interactions. While any ordinary person who plays by the rules can contribute, at the heart of the intellectual constitution are professional networks. Becoming a literate professional requires years of training and cultural adaptation, which only institutions can provide. Troll networks are leaderless, which allows them to self-organize and persist. They do have some institutional nodes -- such as Mr Trump's Twitter account when he was president -- and thus have the capacity to make a lot of things happen, but the professional communities built around intellectual constitutions are more institutionalised than troll networks. Trolls have relentlessly attacked the core institutions of these communities, hoping that the public will see academics and journalists as liars peddling personal bias, and most of these institutions have risen to the challenge.

For example, the MAINSTREAM MEDIA in the US have not been deterred or deterred by Trump's unprecedented populist attacks. Traditional media have seen their subscribers and credibility jump during Trump's presidency, and Trump's attacks on the media have only strengthened their determination to expose the truth. The us courts and law enforcement have also responded resolutely, with the judicial system working with undisturbed professionalism and much to the frustration of the White House, halting many of the Trump administration's executive orders as unconstitutional.

New media and social platforms have fared poorly, lacking the deep institutional cultures and defenses that traditional media have long developed, allowing trolls and bots to gain a head start. Fortunately, industry giants like Google and Meta have announced their commitment to an intellectual constitution that will demote fake news, weed out bots, and stop abuse.

In today's American society, trolls represent the trampling of the intellectual constitution by rightwing populism, while leftwing populism attacks the intellectual Constitution from another Angle, the so-called call-out culture.

Voice suppression culture, also known as Cancelculture, refers to a kind of social boycott in the Internet era, that is, to report someone or a program that does not conform to the political correctness of their own identity, so as to launch a crusade by public opinion and expel them from the original social relations or media platform, so as to make them "cancelled".

Rauch emphasizes the difference between criticism and choking: The purpose of criticism is to engage in conversation and find mistakes; The purpose of choking is to stigmatize the conversation and punish the wrongdoer. Criticism is concerned with whether the statement is true; Qiong is concerned about its social impact. In American society, the left's culture of gagging is often directed at racist or sexist comments, as if to take the moral high ground. However, under the influence of slogan culture, a kind of original does not represent a consensus of minority views, can first seemed in a dominant position, then become dominant, actually this is because the opposition people choose silence, due to fear of being isolated and "spiral of silence" to replace the public debate, the result is to form a false consensus. Even if the initial minority opinion is reasonable, the consequences of a false consensus are incalculable.

If the intellectual constitution is like a funnel, then trolls destroy the narrow end of the funnel, and gagging culture destroys the wide end. Rauch pointed out that the Intellectual Constitution does not allow criticism, offense, or emotional impact caused by speech to be equated with physical violence, nor does it allow the expression of speech by some people to be prevented in order to protect the feelings of others. Any misleading, seditious, blasphemous and bigoted speech should be tolerated and protected, allowed to enter the funnel, and marginalized and eliminated by the rules of the intellectual constitution itself, not by the noise of politicization.

Looking back on history, knowledge constitution, as an unwritten rule system, leads mankind out of ignorance and blind obedience and achieves efficient knowledge growth. At a time when the digital revolution has led to the flood of information and the rise of anti-intellectualism, it is of great importance to uphold the intellectual constitution.


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