Oct 30, 2020

Who Benefits from Division?

"In every industry and institution there exists a metagame: hidden yet fundamental strategies that confer success and strategic dominance. Those who win the metagame capitalize on knowledge of structural mechanisms and system-level quirks. They know how 'the game' should be played.

"To win the metagame one must ask the right questions. Those who aren’t playing the metagame ask the wrong questions.

"When it comes to our divisive politics, those who aren’t playing the metagame ask: 'why are we divided?' or 'to what extent are we divided?' In contrast, persons cognizant of the metagame ask: 'who benefits from this division?' The ones who foment political polarization are the ones who benefit from it."

- "How Availability Cascades are Shaping our Politics"

The authors go on to explain the mainstream media are the ones benefitting because the news is a failing business model. They write: "It is no coincidence that the media’s descent into negativity began in the late 1990s. The period marked the rise of the Web and birth of the online competitors that traditional media struggles against today."

I have often reflected on this and the many ways it is true. I watched it happen and saw how click-bait sites such as Gawker and Buzzfeed not only thrived but actually changed the business model of the mainstream news outlets.

The question isn't why it happened in the superficial sense. "Sensational news captures the public’s attention and attracts far more readers and viewers than a dispassionate summary of statistics and a presentation of accurate information," as the authors put it. The question is why traditional news media such as CNN would decide to sacrifice their reputations for the attention. The authors explain it's because the choice seems to be "sensationalize or perish."

They share a humorous  but telling statistic: "According to Forbes, CNN’s total primetime audience was well under a million viewers (767,000) in 2019. For context, there are more sex workers in the United States than there are people who watch CNN primetime."