It doesn’t take much to build an online empire


Apparently any twit with an obsession and a lot of persistence can do it. For example, Mike Adams, the “Health Ranger”, peddles silly supplements and “cures” alongside his right wing weirdness, and it seems he’s been a fanatic about linking to himself, and building a mass of self-referential garbage websites to create a custom echo chamber.

Much has been written recently about online “echo chambers”: the idea that we are catered to on the Internet with sites and recommendations that reinforce our preexisting beliefs. If you watch a lot of science videos on YouTube, follow many scientists on Twitter, and regularly search for scientific questions on Google, your online experience will shift away from neutrality, as search results, post sorting, and recommendations will be tailored to your pro-science stance. This is an echo chamber because, in due time, you only hear your beliefs repeated back at you and stop seeing what’s happening on the other side.

Echo chambers for the pseudoscience crowd exist as well, though Mike Adams’ online bubble is so vast and self-sufficient, it warrants the term “ecosystem”.

It’s impressive, in a narrow minded way. Every little whim he has prompts the creation of a new website, and then they all link to each other, so once you find your way to one, you reverberate all over the place, getting nothing but the Mike Adams perspective and the Mike Adams sales pitch.

A bit of online sleuthing revealed that Mike Adams owns over 50 websites. The topics they cover go beyond alternative medicine and help shape an entire worldview: fear of medicine and science (gmo.news, medicine.news, vaccines.news), anti-Left and pro-freedom hype (campusinsanity.com, libtards.news, freedom.news), and doomsday prep advice (survival.news, collapse.news).

He has his own search engine and his own social media site! Get sucked into that bubble and you’re never getting out again, by design. All it takes is dedication and a small team of people constantly taking advantage of search algorithms to assemble a self-reinforcing internet empire. One thing surprised me.

His Twitter account boasts 124,000 followers. On the day I write this, he has tweeted about reducing your risk of stroke by drinking full-fat milk; about the chemical bisphenol-A causing gender confusion; and about a woman who cured her cancer with cannabis oil. These tweets lead to his websites, which can be searched via his Good Gopher engine and accessed through his social media platform.

Mike Adams’ dark, conspiratorial Wonderland is vast and the rabbit hole is frightening in depth. “Down, down down. Would the fall never come to an end?”

OK, 124,000 twitter followers is a respectable number, but it’s not that large — I’ve got something over 150K, and I’m a nobody. What it takes is willingness to leverage those numbers, to use those people to shape a profitable network, and that just takes persistent wanking over yourself. Mike Adams is not particularly intelligent, and even he can do it…which makes me realize how little real insight it takes to create, for instance, a religion. Build a bubble around whatever — Scientology, Mormonism, Christianity, Mike Adams — seed it with busy little monkeys telling each other how vital their message is, and basic human predispositions will take over and make it grow, and fling more reinforcement/cash to the object of their fascination.

If ever I try to turn those 150K followers into a Church of PZ (I won’t), remind me of this post and tell me that once upon a time I considered that kind of manipulation to be evil.

You probably don’t have to worry about it, because one thing it requires is a lot of mindless work to keep the pump running, and that’s something I’m not good at.

Comments

  1. lotharloo says

    Heh, I searched for “Newyork times” on “good gopher” and one of the top results was “jewwatch”. Lovely.

  2. Oggie. says

    If ever I try to turn those 150K followers into a Church of PZ (I won’t)

    You sort of did. Remember Hoppism? Remember the almost instant schisms into Left Footists and Right Footists (not to mention those execrable Bothists)? Remember Hoppism becoming the worship of certain Ales? And then the schisming from Aleists to Bockists and even Coorsian Schismatics?

    It wouldn’t work for you, PZed. You leave too much room for your followers to think, to examine evidence. This sort of thing only really works with authoritarians. I don’t picture you as, in any way, shape, or form, an authoritarian (well, except when it comes to the Oxford Comma, of course).

    I see similar algorithms when I search for books. When looking for interesting history books, I generally aim for the scholarly or scholarly/popular books (just finished a great one by Gaude on von Lettow-Vorbeck during the Great War). And that’s what my searches and suggestions present to me. If, however, I click (almost always accidentally) on a right-wing ahistory book, for the next week I am bombarded with adverts and suggestions for every right-wing conspiracy book out there. I have to spend two weeks randomly searching for real history books for the algorithm to finally give up on me.

    Oddly, I do not see this for extreme leftist books. Not that there are that many. But it is really difficult to come up with a search phrase for anti-colonialism that does not, in the first or second iteration, start bombarding me with anti-anti-colonialism histories.

    But remember, it is only the liberals who have to live in a bubble to protect our world view.

  3. Dunc says

    Oggie, @ #2 – Ah yes: “And now abideth faith, hop, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is hop.”

  4. komarov says

    If ever I try to turn those 150K followers into a Church of PZ (I won’t), remind me of this post and tell me that once upon a time I considered that kind of manipulation to be evil.

    No worries. Just grant yourself absolution. If you have qualms about that you can always appoint a obedient lackey as the pontifex maximus of your sacred institution and have them do it for you. It’s a manoeuvre as old as hierarchies, probably.

  5. nomdeplume says

    Good comparison with religion. The Australian Prime Minister recently said he sends his daughters to religious schools to avoid them coming into contact with ideas he doesn’t approve of. For religions the echo chamber involves parents, schools, friends, priests, community events, and, of course, the Bible. There seem to be large numbers of people these days who never stray outside that echo chamber.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Oggie. @ # 2: If, however, I click (almost always accidentally) on a right-wing ahistory book, for the next week I am bombarded with adverts and suggestions for every right-wing conspiracy book out there.

    Blehh. You didn’t say who does this to you: Amazon, Google, &/or ____?

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