Signaling in the Age of Social - Principles #17

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Principles Series
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Apr 9, 2022 01:41 PM
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Today we’ll continue with the concept of signaling. If you missed the past two days, I encourage you to check them out (here then here). So far, we’ve established what signaling is and why humans do it. But as with many things, we now need examine how that works in the internet age.
Social media has both made it even easier to virtue signal. Sure, you can write something, but you can easily just ‘like’ or ‘share’ someone else’s signal.
More broadly, these social networks have direct measures for social status in terms of the number of likes or followers someone has. As noted yesterday, the whole reason we signal is about gaining status and prestige with our peers. So social really represents a perfect storm: it makes it easy to signal for status and gives us numbers to evaluate ourselves and others.
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Whether or not such an ending was foreseeable or avoidable is not the point here. Rather, the question is, “What does it mean?” And to that, it’s clear that this is an undesirable result. Low or no cost virtue signaling degrades the system by making dishonest signals too easy. And the nature of social media means that we have less real-life connections to gain true insight into virtues. Hence we’re left with, well, what we have now: a world dominated by a social media that incents and is thus filled with insincere and absurd takes designed to appeal for social status within one’s tribe.
That sounds bleak, so what can be done? At a personal level, you can try to opt out of the game or system (read: get off social media), but recommending that isn’t a systemic solution. From a systemic perspective, there would appear to be two classes of solution: technological and cultural. But that will need to be a story for another time.