How did these bots get in our memetic fabric (or why)?
September 5, 2021 3:18 PM   Subscribe

This would be an Ask metafilter question for how to deal with another new conspiracy meme, but we're all bots here endlessly mutating the memetic fabric. New to me is the idea that the banality of social media is evidence that we've all ben replaced by AI: Dead Internet Theory.
posted by k3ninho (75 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can you elaborate on Dead Internet Theory?
posted by zamboni at 3:26 PM on September 5 [4 favorites]


i hate commenting i just want to hold ur hand
posted by bigendian at 3:30 PM on September 5 [15 favorites]


Would you like to know more?
posted by iamkimiam at 3:35 PM on September 5 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry, but I don't understand your question. Can you rephrase it?
posted by Ahmad Khani at 3:35 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I read the whole article and don't understand the theory.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:40 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


It's time to come clean.

metafilter, as an all text site, was an early staging ground for the dead internet.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:44 PM on September 5 [10 favorites]


Web != internet...
posted by jim in austin at 3:47 PM on September 5


I liked your article on how did these bots get in our memetic fabric (or why) very much and want to read more about how did these bots get in our memetic fabric (or why). Shoes handbags ladies slippers.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:50 PM on September 5 [27 favorites]


I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t understand the theory.
posted by not_the_water at 3:53 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


This theory is obviously created by a bunch of bots.

Seriously this is so infuriatingly stupid and I think the core thesis of the internet being shit is totally true (Eternal September, yada yada, but I honestly believe 2007-2010 was the turning point - 2016 is far long after the point it started to sour.

The worst part is there are going to be people who legit buy this and further creates some sort of fracture in the already fractured consensus reality. If we're all bots, what does it matter, right? just believe whatever we want to believe, man...

Also - am I wrong but the idea that the internet is "bots" is not literally "bots" - like yes, there are some AI agents out there, but usually it just means fake accounts often manned by real people (more masks than bots). Not that bots don't exist and automation/bot-nets certainly helps a lot of this, an amplifier of sorts, but in the end there are plenty of horrible awful opinions out there that plenty of horrible and awful people hold, and to pretend it's just "bots" is to take away our responsibility to fight it.

Or what do I know. Obligatory and obvious joke about how I'm just a bot, anyways.
posted by symbioid at 3:56 PM on September 5 [4 favorites]


This is what happens when The Atlantic doesn't have a war to flog.
posted by nickggully at 3:56 PM on September 5 [43 favorites]


I *do* know I'm not turning Mitch McConnell over.
But my name is NOT Leon, damnit.
posted by symbioid at 3:57 PM on September 5 [5 favorites]


mathowie? Let me tell you about mathowie.
posted by symbioid at 3:58 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]


This conspiracy theory appeals to me enough that I suspect whatever bot is generating these conspiracy theories is targeting them directly at me.
posted by joeyh at 4:10 PM on September 5




ALL YOUR US BELONGS TO BASE.
posted by clavdivs at 4:29 PM on September 5 [12 favorites]


right now is always the best internet
but that's exactly the sort of thing I'd say if I were a bot
posted by scruss at 4:35 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


All seems fake to me.
posted by sammyo at 4:37 PM on September 5


Y'all don't really want to know the truth, trust me. I have on multiple occasions told people they don't want to know the truth and been pestered into spilling my guts and receiving an "OMG I didn't want to know that" followed by "I told you so". The rest is under old NDA agreements. Sorry.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:37 PM on September 5


we need to break it break it break it break it break it break it break it break it break it break it break break break it
posted by Mister Cheese at 4:39 PM on September 5


+++ATH0
posted by zengargoyle at 4:48 PM on September 5 [14 favorites]


For what it's worth, when I first got on the internet in the 90s, people were arguing about whether hot water freezes faster than cold water, and I just ran across the argument again last week.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:48 PM on September 5 [14 favorites]


I'm both a nihilist bot and a solipsist bot - so none of you actually exist, but it's not like it matters.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:51 PM on September 5 [8 favorites]


If I could give this thread more than five stars I would!
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 5:02 PM on September 5


Youi call them bots, I call them a script that goes through /var/spool/news and tells me about any post that mentions my name. You don't even have to do it in front of a mirror three times. What's a Bot?
posted by zengargoyle at 5:04 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this is funny now, but wait until people are eating thermal compound paste or elephant toe-fungus medicine or something to protect them from the Dead Internet AIs.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:06 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


And by mysterious coincidence, MarkovFilter suddenly seems to be down... wake up, sheeple!
posted by biogeo at 5:07 PM on September 5


Eh, the Markov thing is cortex. Maybe Mods Are Asleep. I'm sure they'll fix it in short order.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:12 PM on September 5


does anyone post the comments down here?
posted by Rhaomi at 5:18 PM on September 5 [22 favorites]


I'm still processing Dead AOL Theory.
posted by srboisvert at 5:18 PM on September 5


Maybe it’s more a Dead Reality issue. We all went online, and the boys got pushed out into the real world. I’m just glad they’re still feeding my cats.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:19 PM on September 5


Old fear/narcissism, right? Everyone else is a mannequin, a ghost, etc.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 5:53 PM on September 5


Those "bots" are just Scott Adams sockpuppets.
posted by Schmucko at 5:54 PM on September 5 [7 favorites]


Ray-Ban? Sunglasses Up To 90% OFF
posted by slightlybewildered at 5:59 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Tired: most of the internet is bad
Wired: most of the internet is fake
Inspired: some of the internet is bad, some of the internet is fake, some of the internet is abused cynically to make money, and the rest is either inexplicable or created by intelligence agencies
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:02 PM on September 5 [7 favorites]


If everything is fake, how come my life isn't any better than it is?
posted by maxwelton at 6:09 PM on September 5 [4 favorites]


last time i looked this thread had almost 5.253421 x 10^16 comments but they were mostly, not all, about encasements and now they are completely gonee and i am lonely
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:55 PM on September 5


The post is very long, and some of it is too confusing to bother with; the author claims to have pieced together the theory from ideas shared by anonymous users of 4chan’s paranormal section and another forum called Wizardchan, an online community premised on earning wisdom and magic through celibacy.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:58 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


You can make 500 dollars a day working from home ask me how, just click http...
posted by symbioid at 7:02 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


…://www.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 7:12 PM on September 5


Wasn't there a claim several years ago that spam email amounted to a huge portion of internet traffic? So this is all good now.
posted by sneebler at 7:32 PM on September 5


Dead-internet theory. It’s terrifying, but I love it.

It's hard for me to articulate with any precision the range of ways in which I disapprove of this overall sentiment.

At one level, any argument that conspiracy theories generally are good fodder for amusement strikes me as only a hair's breadth away from a kind of ass-covering misanthropy. A dogpile of "Can you believe that idiots actually believe this?" self-congratulation feels like an inevitable feature of such discussions. I readily admit that it is important to call out the authors of conspiracy theories and the grifters that inevitably try to ride their coat-tails, but doing so responsibly involves a level of empathy for the people they've conned. What makes Alex Jones and his ilk contemptible monsters is that their behavior makes clear what contempt they have for their audience, and that they are willing to feed the darkest fears and worst tendencies of that audience so long as it keeps the grift going and the money coming in. The sort of content that reveals the true colors of such grifters is very different from treating conspiracy theories like a genre of fan fiction to be pointed at and mocked, which shows as much contempt for the victims of the grift as for its purveyors.

At a deeper level, engaging in online discussions that have a "haha, what if, tho?" vibe almost certainly means contributing to pipelines that isolate and radicalize people who are already vulnerable. Dead Internet Theory is treated by the author like a delightful romp, an opportunity to intellectually slum it for a bit before returning to a privileged world of People Who Know Better. By its very nature, however, conspiracy theory as a topic attracts people who are marginalized and disaffected, as well as people who are prone to paranoid delusions. A major part of why radicalization pipelines (particularly those optimized by engagement-driven content selection algorithms) are so insidious is that they don't usually have clearly identifiable architects, so participation doesn't feel like complicity. The author of this piece appears to me to be someone who enjoys paddling about in the shallow end of a pool whose deep end is the refuge for most of the Internet's most noxious political ideologies, unaware that the paddling contributes ever so slightly to a slow current into those depths. It's not an accident that so many flat-Earthers got sucked into QAnon. Dead Internet Theory appears particularly noxious, in this respect, because it builds the dehumanization of one's perceived opponents in right from the jump. Why should someone feel bad harassing and doxxing an annoying small-fry content creator if there's a little voice saying they're not even a real person?

Bottom line: Dunking on 'conspiracy theories' writ large sure feels like a way to dunk on vulnerable, gullible people while maintaining ego-protecting plausible deniability. Knowing an idea is bad doesn't make mocking people who are willing to consider it at all laudable. Contributing to such discussions online "for the sake of argument" can, in some cases, help to draw in the very people this sort of mockery shows contempt for and steer them toward darker and more actively harmful conspiracies.
posted by belarius at 7:38 PM on September 5 [23 favorites]


It's a stupid theory, the internet is full of life if you know where to look for it
With cell internet coverage growing and cellphone prices plummeting, the last 5 years was when all Brazilian indigenous peoples really came online, and today you have digital influencers from the Ashaninka, Baniwa, Kanela, Pataxó, Mbya peoples etc.
Their current mobilization against a land grab law in the supreme court is a beautiful thing to witness. Thousands of people from all over Brazil converging on the capital, under a total media blackout from the big channels. And all of this because internet!
posted by Tom-B at 8:25 PM on September 5 [10 favorites]


hate to break it to y'all, but reality as we know it actually ended in 1977. As prophecized by David Bowie five years previous in the song Five Years. Which makes everything that's happened in the subsequent forty-four years at best an afterlife hallucination of a rational sequence of events. Think of it as a sort metaphysical extrapolation of that ole Warner Bros cartoon dynamic wherein Wile E Coyote has just charged off into the abyss whilst trying to strangle that pesky Roadrunner ... but he's not falling yet because he hasn't noticed yet. We need to keep on not noticing.

Or so some guy said to me on the bus about twelve years ago.
posted by philip-random at 8:49 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


I absolutely believe this to be true. Reddit became successful because it’s founders created sock puppets to make the site look like it had many more users than it did. I assume most other social networks that have grown have done the same thing. Most of my email is spam or just copy paste jobs from a marketing firm. Much of my Facebook feed is shitty reposts of gifs generated by a handful of right wing political operations like turning point USA.
posted by interogative mood at 8:55 PM on September 5


I've got a crazier theory. It's that there's more people on the internet than you think. A lot more. WAY MORE PEOPLE THAN YOU REALIZE ARE ON THE INTERNET.

You might have a number in your head that is technically correct, but you have no idea what that number means. You read 500 tweets yesterday and then told someone, "This is what they're talking about on Twitter today." Also that day there were 200 million people on twitter who were not talking about that. You can't imagine a million people tweeting. But there's 199 million other people beyond that. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MANY PEOPLE THERE ARE ON THE INTERNET.
posted by straight at 9:09 PM on September 5 [8 favorites]


Well, yeah, but to be fair most of Twitter, specifically, is bots.
posted by pompomtom at 9:11 PM on September 5




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posted by loquacious at 9:16 PM on September 5 [11 favorites]


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posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 9:21 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]


Since we've not gotten a response, we're giving you a final courtesy call before we close out your file.

OH how I wish that were true.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:40 PM on September 5 [4 favorites]


In 2018, I loaded alexa youtube tutorials, playied them to an Alexa thinking this might create a Mobius loop, I know.
There's another way that cannot exceed the AI ability to replicate responses.
Cats.
posted by clavdivs at 11:02 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I think the Dead-Internet Theory has something going for it.

Huge swaths of the 'net are, effectively, dead. Killed off and rendered unusable by spam, bots, and low-grade clickbait ground out by Markov generators, psyops campaigns, and the occasional broken-down human: anticontent.

There is an inflection point, a toxic threshold, where the amount of anticontent on a platform becomes poisonous, and discourages the production and discovery of authentic content to the point where the platform itself is at risk of death. Some therapies—aggressive moderation, Bayesian filtering, trained neural networks—can help, but the disease process seems to be almost uniformly fatal when left unchecked.

Walled gardens were an interesting strategy... but once the invasive spores got over the wall, they found a defenseless ecosystem on the other side. While the gardens may not be dead, the harsh measures necessary to stop the spread of the anticontent infection, once it sets in, robs them of what made them attractive originally.

And so the users flee the anticontent-laden dead zones, constantly building, occasionally scorching the earth behind them, trying to construct an authentic existence on the frontier of novelty. But they bring the plague with them every time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:30 PM on September 5 [14 favorites]



hate to break it to y'all, but reality as we know it actually ended in 1977.

But I was born in 1983. Does that mean ...........
posted by eagles123 at 11:40 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of the tiresome and revolting "There are no women on the Internet!" memes. And did you notice how the examples were all of extremely relatable "feminine" content?

I have strong suspicions that if you scratch the surface of this "theory" you'll find a lot of tiresome incel "all women are faking everything to control us innocent deserving menfolk" thinking and bog-standard transmisogyny squirming around underneath.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:43 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]


I love where she lands this piece. She doesn’t outright say that maybe the bots are just a metaphor for the way people behave, but rather suggests to keep your eye out for signs of life. The best way to reject bots (botulism?) and keep the internet alive is to not be a bot.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:03 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


In a sense something like this theory is true, because instead of humans training algorithms, in some ways algorithms are now training humans. This is because algorithms surface and promote particular kinds of posts, comments, etc, and people who want that sweet reward of attention are learning, often unconsciously I think, how to earn those rewards. In this way, the people have become bots. This is not just about social media and YouTube promotion, but also spam filters training spammers, Google training SEO operatives, and so on.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:04 AM on September 6 [4 favorites]


I wish I could easily dismiss this as bunk, but there are fewer and fewer refuges online that feel authentic. Except for metafilter, honestly. Every other social media site I used from 2010 onwards became insufferable because of awful, regurgitated content.
posted by glaucon at 1:13 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


I can believe this. Over the past few years, genuine interactions with strangers on the basis of mutual interest seem to have disappeared, and been replaced by more instrumental interactions (i.e., accounts auto-following random people, in the hope that a percentage of them politely follow them back and buy their product/pass on their messages/whatever).

What part of this is autonomous predatory systems written by 12-dimensional-chess masters in Russia and/or Florida and what part of this is just the reframing of online interaction to the role of the “influencer”, replacing normal interaction with instrumental button-pushing, is uncertain, though I imagine there would be a continuum with cybercrime spambot gangs at one end and the influencer perma-hustle on Instagram/TikTok at the other.
posted by acb at 2:00 AM on September 6 [4 favorites]


Also, we've got GAN-based natural-language chat bots about to arrive, so that will make things even more interesting.
posted by acb at 2:02 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


And so the users flee the anticontent-laden dead zones, constantly building, occasionally scorching the earth behind them, trying to construct an authentic existence on the frontier of novelty. But they bring the plague with them every time.

Perhaps the answer is something like the Mastodon fediverse: small communities, small enough to have a local culture and an internal pressure that expels anticontent, with some degree of trusted federation, like a network of postapocalyptic mottes and baileys guarded by high walls.
posted by acb at 3:23 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


In a sense something like this theory is true, because instead of humans training algorithms, in some ways algorithms are now training humans.

And algorithms are training bots, and bots are training humans. It’s a whole ecosystem of memes, disinformation, and agitprop. Take Qanon. That was an emergent phenomenon between disparate but symbiotic groups. You had your bored nihilistic channers, your raving partisan wingnuts, your Russian bots sowing discord, and your opportunistic content-producers harvesting clicks, all led by algorithms designed to boost trends and encourage down-the-rabbit-hole types of engagement. Both bots and humans learned from the algorithms how to get likes and build followers, then traded disinfo until a whole dense web of paranoid delusions had been spun. Naive people stumbled into this web, mistaking its popularity for legitimacy, and became indoctrinated by it, thus becoming a new beacon spouting viral nonsense. I listed the parties as separate, but really it’s almost impossible to distinguish a smart bot from a dumb human. They are functionally equivalent when it comes to spreading content. Your proverbial crazy uncle got radicalized by both.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:57 AM on September 6 [7 favorites]


Your proverbial crazy uncle got radicalized by both.

If we ever produce a true AI, it will probably be built on the template of someone’s ranting racist uncle.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:02 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


You really think someone would do that? Just go on the internet and tell lies?
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:40 AM on September 6 [4 favorites]


You know, I read the The Illuminatus! trilogy back when I was young and enjoyed it, but I gotta say that the last decade or so has really sucked all the fun out of conspiracy theories for me. I think the slide downhill started when I realized that many of the Flat Earth people were earnest, ffs! The last nail in the coffin of conspiracies-are-harmless-fun has been the previous 18ish months, for obvious reasons. That being said, the idea that the Internet is mostly bots is for me strangely uplifting, idk?
posted by Harald74 at 5:56 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]


I too read Illuminatus! when I was young (and put my religion as “Discordian” on at least one census form), and also used to read alt.conspiracy in the 90s, before the Dumb Mean Hicks took over conspiracy theory, when militia types were a tiny fringe almost outnumbered by earnest delusional paranoiacs confabulating things like the "Secret Underground World Society" and "Computer God Frankenstein Controls"*, and collecting these was like collecting Pokemon or baseball cards. More recently, I saw someone assert that Illuminatus! worked as a dead-virus inoculation against Qanon, and that makes complete sense to me.

* though I did wonder the other day whether, were Francis E. Dec alive today, he'd feel vindicated by the 5G Bill Gates vaccine chip conspiracy theory, which literally postulates actual Communist Gangster Computer God Frankenstein Controls.
posted by acb at 6:29 AM on September 6


reality as we know it actually ended in 1977.

But I was born in 1983. Does that mean ...........


yes, you're post-real. Probably explains a lot. I personally don't have that excuse having been born in 1959. Confusion is always next.
posted by philip-random at 7:36 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


... and now having finally finished reading the entirety of the article (all 1,685 words of it), I think I can safely conclude that what we're talking about here is Web 2.0 -- mission accomplished.

Web 2.0 (also known as Participative (or Participatory)[1] and Social Web)[2] refers to websites that emphasize user-generated content, ease of use, participatory culture and interoperability (i.e., compatible with other products, systems, and devices) for end users.

or from the article itself:

The conspiring group’s intention is, of course, to control our thoughts and get us to purchase stuff.

As always, I think we can safely blame Marketing.
posted by philip-random at 8:23 AM on September 6


The Illuminatus! Trilogy definitely inoculates against stuff like Q. I just wish it was something I could hand to modern kids without having to warn them they’re gonna have to read around a bunch of bullshit that comes from it being written by two guys handling the letter columns for Playboy in the sixties.
posted by egypturnash at 8:27 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


The Illuminatus! Trilogy definitely inoculates against stuff like Q.

in a better weirder universe, it would be required reading in high school English (even with all the sex magick and whatnot -- I did say it would be a weirder universe).
posted by philip-random at 8:31 AM on September 6


'Fall' by Neal Stephenson is not a perfect book and I wouldn't necessarily recommended it in general, but his "apotheosis of the bots" scene is swell.
posted by ovvl at 8:33 AM on September 6


Also holy crap the forum post that spawned this idea sure is some pure, uncut 4chan. Have some excerpts:

My background is that of an oldfag. I've seen it all. I started going on 4chan in 2006, and followed all the natural roads this implies. I'm in my thirties and I remember when 4chan had a /l/ board, when /co/ was a trial board shunned by basically everyone, when #34 porn was an obscure interest with very few good artists and when moot changed the frontpage to that web 2.0 bullshit 4chan has to this very day. I was also among the first right wingers who were such before it was cool, and I've seen /pol/ rise and fall. I was there when it mattered, but rather than saying these things out of masturbatory pleasure I wish to stress that I've acquired a set of observational skills which other genuine oldfags share. I'm aware you have no reason to trust my "credentials" but I hope you'll read this in good faith.

...

Why does the real world bend over backwards to accommodate our weirdest fetishes? It's as if everything is going "Look, look! I created this for you! I made it real!" in an effort to keep us within this world. The results of this are devastating to society, to people, to civilization. Simply put, trannies are a thing because Anon fapped to doujins of cute boys in dresses. Once it was an impossible fantasy, not to be taken too seriously. Now it's grim reality. Again: it's as if the real world is using imageboards as a template on what to be and what to do.

look dude I'll believe you made it possible for me to live in a world where nobody gives a shit about me being a lady who was designated male at birth through the focused power of your wanking when I start seeing consensual tentacle sex out in the park, okay, Anon has fapped to a lot of stuff that doesn't exist.
posted by egypturnash at 10:21 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


Upon closer inspection we entered the simulation on January 1st 1970. Just check the source code for Unix time.
posted by interogative mood at 3:01 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


Eh, Illumnatus! Still has the problem of being only a few short steps to “the Jews did it.” There really isn’t a safe or innocent conspiracy theory.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:58 PM on September 6


We are so utterly terrified of the fact that the universe is disinterested in us and our lives that we'd rather believe in banal airport-novel level horse shit instead: religion, Qanon, astrology, the Illuminati, "the secret", neurolinguistic programming & pick up artistry, Jewish blood libel, the invisible hand of the free market, pretty much every TED Talk, Roko's basilisk, or whatever crap your cousin is sharing on Facebook this week.

Even this one isn't new: it's just a retread of the "NPCs" meme (itself just the philosophical concept of solipsism) mixed in with the anxiety you feel about any technology that was developed after your 30th birthday and plain old selection bias. It's the kind of checkout line tabloid stuff people only care about when the economy sucks and we're all looking for reassurance that even though the space lizard ruling class is manipulating our Twitter feeds at least SOMEONE is in control.

There ARE conspiracies, it's just that they're the Scooby Doo kind. There's no ghosts or werewolves or space aliens, just some guy trying to commit insurance fraud to get money they don't even need.

I'm just tired. I can't even fake enthusiasm for the ten millionth retread of "but what if we live in a simulation?" It's probably just my age, but conspiracy theories were fun when they were something Mulder and Scully chased in the 90s, but not so much when they're the 9 o'clock news telling you how to prepare for the trans brown people antifa invasion by eating bleach and injecting horse dewormer.
posted by AlSweigart at 7:24 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


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