How Social Media’s Obsession with Scale Supercharged Disinformation

The attack on the U.S. Capitol building was the culmination of years of disinformation and conspiracy theories that had been weaponized on social media networks. Could that weaponization have been prevented? Perhaps. The dominant business model of these platforms, which emphasized scale over other considerations, made them particularly vulnerable to disinformation networks and related backlash against those networks — both the loss of infrastructure support, as in the case of Parler, and the threat of regulatory crackdown, as in the case of Facebook and Twitter. While the scale-centric business model paid off for these networks in the short to medium term, the overlooked risks of that model have brought these platforms to the reckoning they face today.

Over the last four years, disinformation has become a global watchword. After Russian meddling on social networks during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, experts expressed concerns that social media would continue to be weaponized — warnings that were often dismissed as hyperbolic.

But the January 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol building illustrates just how powerful a networked conspiracy can be when it’s amplified through social media. The attack was the culmination of years of disinformation from President Trump, which ramped up after Biden was declared the president-elect — and largely the product of social media companies’ inability to control the weaponization of their products.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed different approaches to weaponization take shape. While Russian meddling illustrated the potential for well-placed disinformation to spread across social media, the 2017 “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville, Va. showed how a group of white supremacists could use social media to plan a violent rally. The Capitol siege had elements of both — it involved a wider ideological spectrum than Charlottesville, and participants had not simply coordinated over social media, but had been brought together through it. The insurrectionists were united by their support for Donald Trump and their false belief that the election had been stolen from him. At the apex of the moment, Trump used social media to message to the rabid crowd in real time from his mobile phone at a safe remove.

This has raised fundamental questions about the future of the platforms where this all played out. Mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter are being forced to reckon with their moderation policies and facing calls for regulation. And the conservative social media network Parler, which prides itself on its minimalist approach to content moderation, has lost all infrastructure support from Apple, Android, and Amazon Web Services over posts inciting violence, including planning and coordination around the Capitol attack. Without buy-in across infrastructure services, it can be difficult for apps and websites to stay online.

But in order to know what comes next, we need to ask: How did social media become a disinformation machine? And how do the business models of these tech companies explain how that happened?

Everything open will be exploited.

For more than a decade, the business model for today’s social media giants, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter has been to pursue scale. Great ideas, such as the video sharing platform Vine, were left behind in this pursuit, while shareholder KPIs were pegged to expanding the user base. This approach has a significant weakness: When a platform’s growth depends on openness, it’s more vulnerable to malicious use. As we can now see, this open business model can leave companies exposed in ways that these businesses are now are being forced to reckon with.

There have been a few critical phases that lead to this moment. Each, in its own way, illustrated how the vulnerability of the open, scale-centric business model of social media platforms could be exploited.

Relatively early on, the focus on growth set the conditions for the development of a shadow industry of fake followers and artificial engagement. According to insiders, this was well-known, but social media companies avoided discussions about the abuse of their products. Billions of advertising dollars were lost to fake impressions and clicks as more and more bad actors leveraged openness as a financial opportunity.

When online marketing was turned into a political tool, however, the field of bad actors expanded greatly — as did the possible damage they could do. The connection between social media and political events such as Brexit and Trump’s win became clear after Carole Cadwalladr broke the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The incident provided a case study in how data harvested from social media could be repurposed to target specific audiences with content that inflamed political tensions and fractured coalitions, not to mention plant junk news and generally make chaos and confusion reign.

That development coincided with a similar assault on the sensibility of social media users — the creation of military fan fiction known as “QAnon” in 2017. Rising from the ashes of the Pizzagate conspiracy, which claimed Hilary Clinton was part of a child-exploitation network in D.C., a mysterious account named “Q” began posting cryptic missives on a message board known for memes, anime pornography, and white supremacist organizing. While wide-ranging, the core narrative of QAnon was that Trump was secretly engaged in a war with the “deep state” to arrest Clinton and stop a Democrat-run cabal of Satan worshiping pedophiles engaged in large-scale human trafficking. For years, QAnon followers were told to “trust the plan.” (Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but the narrative pegged itself to the news cycle and every twist and turn in the media that seemed to prevent Trump from carrying out his agenda provided additional fodder.)

With QAnon, the fringe moved to the mainstream, with Q discussion threads popping up on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. The platforms’ growth model meant content and groups that produced high engagement were rewarded with higher priority in recommendations. In other words, QAnon communities delivered the kind of content that social networks prize and benefited accordingly. A few specific events, like the arrest of Jeffery Epstein and the Las Vegas mass shooting, generated bursts of new interest in Q’s posts and analysis of them. Q networks also incorporated the emergence of Covid-19, launching a hoax claiming the pandemic was a Democratic plot against Trump and organized several protests to this end.

Belatedly, some tech companies responded. Facebook and Twitter took some action to remove Q networks on their products this summer. Reddit did not have the same problems because they took action early to remove Q forums, and the conspiracy theory never gained a strong foothold on the platform. But by the time Twitter and Facebook took action, Q communities had already planned for deplatforming, creating redundant networks on other apps with smaller networks, like Gab and Parler.

With the election of Joe Biden in November, the effects of these trends became clear. The outcome of the election was jarring to those who were saturated by these conspiracy theories. The feeling of being alienated politically, while also isolated during a pandemic, had fired up many Q followers to the point where Trump only needed to light the match on social media to spread election conspiracies like digital wildfire.

In every instance leading up to January 6, the moral duty was to reduce the scale and pay more attention to the quality of viral content. We saw the cost of failing to do so.

Where we go from here.

In his book Anti-Social Media, Siva Vaidhyanathan writes, “If a global advertising company leverages its vast array of dossiers on its two billion users to limit competition and invite antidemocratic forces to infest its channels with disinformation, democratic states should move to break it up and to limit what companies can learn and use about citizens.” In the wake of the attack on the Capitol, we’re seeing a growing interest in doing just that.

As we, as a society, consider next steps, we should keep in mind that emphasizing scale has a trade off with safety. Furthermore, failing to act on disinformation and viral conspiracy doesn’t mean they will eventually just go away; in fact, the opposite is true. Because social media seems to move the fringe to the mainstream, by connecting people with similar interests from the mundane to the utterly bizarre, tech companies must come up with a plan for content curation and community moderation that reflects a more human scale.

Tech companies, including start-ups wary of overreach, and VCs should begin to draw up model policies for regulators to consider, bearing in mind that openness and scale pose significant risks not only to profits, but to democracies.

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Obsession, Routine and Food: A Memoir

In ancient times of Before Daughter I enjoyed waking up at 4:38 AM for a ritualistic, borderline neurotic, two-hour regimen. That is all but gone now. Fortunately, I have adapted. No matter what time I wake with Miss Vivian, I start with a squeezed lemon in faucet temperature water. Some days, after a night of less than nutrient-dense food, I’ll add some activated charcoal, although I try not to use it more than once a week. I’ve recently employed an intermittent fasting element to my diet that seems to be working. Given the nature of a toddler’s sleep schedule, timing becomes unpredictable, so I simply try not to eat anything in less than twelve, preferably fourteen, hours after the time I ate the night before. After an hour or two in the morning, I hand off Miss Vivian to my wife which allows me to begin my routine of meditation, gratitude, Wim Hof stretching, and recently added calisthenics exercises.

I don’t remember exactly when I became obsessed with being fit. Maybe it was when I joked with a high school classmate of mine, Natalie, who was looking at a magazine photo of a muscular fitness model. The man stood shirtless in jeans with small dark oil smudges in front of a background of an auto repair shop. “Wow, they superimposed that guy’s face on my body,” I quipped. Natalie looked at me.

“If you have a body like that, I will marry you,” she stated. I thought this a good deal. Natalie was good looking and popular. I was not. Perhaps, I thought, this was a way into the cool crowd, a cool life.

This morning’s calisthenics I attempt has a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) component that gets my heart racing. I make myself a protein shake if I think I want to help build a bit of muscle. Other days if I want to feel lean, I skip the shake. Shake or not, my next event is a refreshing cold shower a la Wim Hof. The freezing cold water sucks, but I think of it as overcoming a bit of adversity every day. Every morning I dread stepping into the cold and every morning I step out renewed, refreshed, and in a better mood than when I stepped in.

My obsession with diet predates Natalie from high school. My father would comment on my size as a child instructing his second wife to watch what I ate because he didn’t want a fat son. Of course, this is the way I remember it. It could very well have been a concern for my health. Media have undoubtedly also played a role in my youth. I remember entertainment news television shows repeating the scene in which a young Brad Pitt demonstrates how he uses a gun while holding a hair drawer topless in Thelma and Louise while the anchors discussed his abs. I marveled in disbelief at all the perfect male physiques on the covers of men’s magazines before ever hearing of airbrushing, now Photoshop. Every time I’d see these images my hand pinched the layer of fat over my belly in hopes that I too could one day look like these specimens.

My favourite meal of the day is my breakfast bowl. I call it The Fifteen Layer Bowl and preparing it is as much about the ritual as it is the nutrition. I start with half of a rice cake which I crumble into a serving bowl. A regular cereal bowl just doesn’t cut it. I add either some raw oats or if I’ve made some already, banana oatmeal and sprinkle on some ground flax. Moving on to the sweetness, I add some strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and bananas, whichever ones that I have and these could be fresh or frozen. Everything is organic, of course. I add some Korintje cinnamon to the forming mountain of food, and then I move on to the nuts stage adding small palmfuls of raw pecans, walnuts, and almond slivers. Recently I’ve been substituting a small spoonful of almond butter at the end of The Fifteen Layer Bowl assembly. Once Operation: Nuts is complete, I move on to the final stage, the wet stuff. A couple of dollops of unsweetened coconut yogurt and pea milk. I top this off with some hemp seeds. With it, I enjoy a coffee with some a ten-blend mushroom powder from Four Sigmatic. I have been eating this every day for a couple of years now, and I still look forward to it.

In my early thirties, I stopped boxing and was depressed about not being able to compete. I gained almost sixty pounds. It was not a good time. I became painfully embarrassed about my body, refusing that have my picture taken, but did find one here (thanks Facebook). In it, I was two-hundred and twenty pounds. Although pleased I was no longer boxing; my doctor was now concerned about my heart health. I asked him how much he thought diet had to do with health. He encouraged me to read the China Study. I didn’t listen to him. I read The Four Hour Body instead which was a significant influence. The most valuable takeaway from the Four Hour Body was self-experimentation to see what works best for me. I took it seriously. I followed most of the recommendations in the book, started weight training and lost most of the weight in about six months.

Daily lunches are all over the map. If I’ve eaten breakfast too late, I skip it, opting instead for a green smoothie. In it, I add coconut water, spinach, kale, frozen banana, pumpkin seeds, flax and some other frozen fruit like mangos or berries. Someday I get fancy with things like cocoa powder, wheatgrass, or another superfood I have lying around. When I do eat lunch, it is a hearty salad with mixed greens, carrots, chopped Brussels sprouts, (yes they’re delicious raw), red peppers, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts. I’ll sprinkle some hemp seeds on top and usually dress it with sunflower-ginger oil. Other lunches may be a falafel wrap or salad, a burrito salad or bowl, or a smashed chickpea un-tuna sandwich with pickles. Most of these I make spicy. I like the heat.

Years after I lost the weight, I regained it. My life was a cacophony of non-stop partying and recovery junk food. I went back to what I had learned, but I wanted to delve deeper. I began studying nutrition diligently. Around the same time, we found out we are pregnant. I now had an even more powerful anchor for my endeavors into health. Not only did I want to lose the weight, but I also wanted to be a healthy father and role model. I needed a diet that would be an integral part of my day to day life. I finally read the China Study which led me to dozens of other books. I took a course on how to read nutrition studies which are incredibly convoluted and as I discovered, deliberately so. In the spirit of The Four Hour Body’s self-experimentation, I convinced my doctor to take a baseline blood panel. I changed my diet and retested my blood repeatedly as I learned more and modified what I ate. As my blood markers, energy, and body improved so too did my happiness. Obsession evolved into mindfulness.

An everyday go-to for dinner is what we call a One Bowl. I don’t know why we label our meals. In our One Bowls, we include a starch like rice, potato, sweet potato, or quinoa. We also add a protein such as black beans, lentils, chickpeas, or tempeh, my personal favourite. And vegetables, usually broccoli, cauliflower, or my wife’s preference, sautéed kale. We add a sauce which could be a simple hummus or salsa or a more ambitious tahini dill. A daily dose of sauerkraut is also a pillar of our diet. There might even be a salad component, but not every day. Some days we have a protein pasta, our favourite is the red lentil, with some pesto or a spicy tomato sauce which we finely chop vegetables like broccoli or lentils if we want it to be more hearty.

What I eat now is as much about feeling healthy and happy as it is about the results of my blood tests. I’ve found were with small dietary adjustments I’ve made over time. It started with replacing sugar in my coffee with cinnamon, a tiny variation that was the catalyst for many changes. I don’t look back. Every once in a while I forget, like this past weekend when I had a chocolate-filled croi-fin (a croissant-muffin Frankenstein). It made me sick immediately. Foods that make me sick aren’t what I want in my body. I don’t crave them; I don’t want them. I don’t have a “cheat day.”

At 46 years old, I have the abs I’ve always wanted, yet my hands still go to the skin I once held while I looked at those fitness models feeling unworthy. Unworthy of someone’s attention, someone’s love. The truth is it had nothing to do with abs, health, fitness or diet. It was insecurity, reinforced by the culture in which we live. It was in the not-so-subtle comments from parents, classmates, friends, that can hit like a drive-by shooting. Over in a split second, impacted for a lifetime. Vivian, my wife, my friends today don’t care if I have abs, instead of laughing at my obsession with them. They care that I’m safe, happy, healthy, and present. These are the things worthy of attention, possibly obsession.

This post was originally published on Medium.


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The irrationality of the Coalition’s obsession with coal and gas

The Coalition tells us more than anyone how important cheap power will be for Australia’s economic recovery. They are right.

Most economic activity depends on electricity. All other things being equal, a business that has access to cheaper power will have an advantage over a business that does not.

Today, renewables are the cheapest sources of power. Despite this, the Government have announced plans to build a gas-fired power plant, invested money in carbon capture and storage, are expanding the Snowy Hydro Electric Scheme, and are investing money to produce hydrogen from coal. All of these actions will increase power prices, and harm Australia’s economy.

Using expensive power sources to lower power prices

The Government is planning to build a gas-fired power plant to replace the Liddell Power Station which is due to close in 2023. Angus Taylor says this will “protect families and businesses against the risk of price rises” such as that which occurred when the Hazelwood Power Station closed in 2017.

Nothing is further from the truth. It was well documented at the time that power prices in Victoria increased following the closure of Hazelwood Power Station because the proportion of gas-derived power in the energy mix increased.

When the Hazelwood Power Station, which burns coal, closed, gas-fired plants increased their energy production to compensate for the energy production that was lost. Power derived from gas is more expensive than that derived from coal, wind or the sun. The increase of gas-derived power in the mix caused power prices in Victoria to rise rapidly.

Angus Taylor is trying to solve a problem caused by too much gas by using more gas.

Destroying energy to create energy

Federal Liberal Member of Parliament, Craig Kelly, described Snowy 2.0 as an energy destroyer. Pumped hydro, the type of energy that will be generated by Snowy 2.0, works by pumping water uphill at times of low power demand. That water is allowed to flow downhill through turbines to generate power when power demand is higher. More power is required to pump the water uphill than is generated when the water flows downhill. Therefore, there is an overall loss of energy.

This is why Craig Kelly calls Snowy 2.0 an “energy destroyer”. The price of power generated by Snowy 2.0 must be inflated to cover the cost of the power that is lost. Modelling that was posted on Snowy Hydro’s own website confirms that Snowy 2.0 will increase power prices.

Coalition's gas-fired recovery a benefit to its donors

Adding costs to reduce costs

Attempts at capture and storage involve retrieving carbon dioxide before it escapes to the atmosphere. This will be useful in some industrial applications, however, the Government is spending money on combining carbon capture and storage with power stations that use fossil fuels.

As already mentioned, renewable sources of power are cheaper than power derived from fossil fuels. Even if carbon capture and storage can be done for free or cheaply, power that is produced by burning fossil fuels combined with carbon capture and storage will never be cheaper than power generated from renewable sources.

In reality, carbon capture and storage do cost money. Using carbon capture and storage with the burning of fossil fuels will make a relatively expensive source of power even more expensive.

The Government has invested money in producing hydrogen from brown coal. As with carbon capture and storage, even if someone discovers how to convert the energy stored in coal to hydrogen for free, this strategy will never be commercially viable. In a perfect system that combines coal with steam to form hydrogen, the amount of energy that is lost is about 80 per cent.

The 'gas-led recovery' isn't economically or environmentally prudent

As this applies to an ideal system, this is the minimum amount of energy that can be lost when using coal to produce hydrogen. This is not a technical problem that can be overcome. Coal-fired power plants are usually about 40 per cent efficient.

For hydrogen produced from coal to be economically viable, a hydrogen gas turbine, or hydrogen fuel cell, it would need generate more power than it receives. This is a physical impossibility. Therefore, no amount of improvement in the way hydrogen fuel cells, or hydrogen gas turbines, work can compensate for the energy that is lost from the hydrogen production process.

Many countries racing to integrate as much renewable energy into their grids as possible, as fast as possible, to exploit the economic advantages of having access to cheap power. In Australia, we have a Government that is not just standing still but, by intervening to make power prices more expensive, is running in the opposite direction.

This will cost jobs, lower wages and harm our standards of living.

Richard Gillies is a scientist.

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The Republicans’ Obsession With Free Markets Is Foolish, and Not at all Conservative

Market fundamentalism is not conservatism. In some social & cultural contexts, market fundamentalism can be downright revolutionary. The conservative movement’s obsession with free markets and economic concerns is both foolish and not what it purports to be, namely genuinely conservative.

If we examine the record and history of conservatism carefully, we will quickly discover that the ideology of laissez faire capitalism was always a means to an end. Early conservatives defended free markets because the idea was that if government did not meddle in markets, people would be free to make free decisions as free people, and thus traditional culture and traditional mores would not be disturbed.

However, the premises underlying this reasoning are false, and have always been false. This absolutistic pro-market position presumes that markets can’t be ideological all on their own, either because powerful market players are imposing an ideology upon the market, or the state of the law is directly or indirectly imposing a kind of ideology on the market. The problem is, real markets, as opposed to theoretical markets, can be highly ideological, especially when the rich and the powerful use their wealth and power to keep ideological adversaries down and out. Sure, market forces have a tendency to suppress ideology, but they can’t root it out, especially when it is systemic, legally enforced, or being driven by the ethnic or ideological biases of the masses (consumers) or dominant market players.

A related flawed premise underlying this pro-market position is that society is stable. This is an unsafe presumption in many contexts. Western society is not stable. It is highly unstable, indeed accelerating toward collapse in all likelihood. When societies are stable, keeping your hands off the market may indirectly be conserving a people and their traditions. However, when societies are unmoored, keeping your hand off the market may be permitting society to continue its drift, it may be enabling corporate tyranny, widespread censorship, or an oligarchic assault on democracy. When society itself is in revolt against tradition, keeping your hands off of the market may be inadvertently enabling its revolution against the former values of that society. How could that be conservative?

This is all not to say that respect for market forces isn’t important, or that we shouldn’t be highly cynical about the goodness of power structures and their social engineering programs. Both of these values are good values to possess. However, we must not mistake market fundamentalism for “conservatism”. Their relationship is far more tenuous then many normie-cons, neo-cons, and others pretending to represent righties and whities, would have you believe.

In recent years, the supposed free market (it is not really all that free if we consider government-imposed diversity quotas, widespread regulations, subsidies, bailouts, and cronyism) here in the West has revealed itself to be extremely hostile to white people, to traditional Western values and ideals, to free speech and to essential liberties. It is hard to see how letting the market tread upon Americans is fundamentally different than letting the government do so. Censorship is as wrong when gigantic corporations do it as when governments do it, and ideological discrimination is an assault on one’s freedom of conscience, a far graver threat to American democracy than racial discrimination, and a sharper deviation from traditional liberal (Western) ethics as well.

Those who fellate markets in times such as these are as much the enemy of the American people and American traditions as the Cultural Marxists themselves. Standing on the sidelines while the left destroys the West is to effectively facilitate the left’s war on the white race. Refusing to regulate the bigoted leftist oligarchs who run Big Tech while they systematically silence those of us on the right for purely ideological reasons, is itself a form of virtue signaling. It is throwing up one’s hands in surrender & refusing to fight back. It is a face of nobility covering a heart of cowardice.

The free market is not conserving anything in America. Indeed, in many cases it is clearly helping to rapidly transform America into something deeply undesirable and completely unrecognizable. So then pray tell, how could free market fundamentalism be conservatism?

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The AFL’s unhealthy obsession with violence

AFL broadcasters and commentators routinely glorify on-field violence, writes Alex Hipgrave.

AS AUSTRALIAN Rules Football (AFL) arrives out of its coronavirus quarantine, I noticed a marketing advert narrated by Bruce McAvaney.

In it, he described how the gamers were being now prepared to go to “battle”, reminding me of just how minor I have skipped the violent vernacular so typically discovered in Australian activity, significantly in AFL.

The channel 7 advert offered the viewer with pictures of players brutalising every single other: tackling opponents into the ground, slamming them versus fences, hair pulling and all-out brawls. To accompany these scenes had been loud banging seems, effectively simulating violent, physical effects.

Even though this typical violent behaviour in AFL games is pretty distinct, the complementary aspect of violent vernacular is usually disregarded. Violent vernacular is a considerably additional subtle edition of the indignity that activity presents us – 1 that additional proves just how ingrained in our society violence has come to be.

Change on the tv through the submit-match interviews of an AFL sport. Players routinely refer to their kicking of a ball all over a grass area although wearing colourful costumes for handsome sums of money as a thing akin to “war” or “battle.”

The AFL and its broadcasters understand the absurdity of this, so they present viewers with a veneer of sophistication: punditry.

Pre-recreation, half-time and publish-video game demonstrates consist of primarily ex-gamers turned pundits discussing the affairs of the games in designer satisfies, with stacks of paper sitting down on the desk in front of them, accompanied by a experienced studio aesthetic – fabricating an aura of civility and respectability to the otherwise incongruous proceedings of games.

And who are these expert pundits that media firms bestow upon viewers? out?v=f8VTSGLCa1M

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Athletics employs Eddie McGuire – who the moment claimed that he would like to see a feminine colleague drowned Alastair Lynch – notorious for throwing punches on the football industry and from 2012-2016, Barry Hall – a person nearly solely renowned for his petulant outbreaks of physical violence and vulgarity.


Probably most egregiously, channel 7 employs Wayne Carey – a serial domestic abuser. The AFL market and its corporate media companions reward these adult males with soft employment, waddling onto mainstream tv studio sets and preaching their violent vernacular to the nation just about every week.

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A single consequence of the violence exhibited during AFL games, each actual physical and rhetorical, is the considerable rise in stories of domestic assaults on big video game days, which is also accurate in the context of Nationwide Rugby League (NRL) online games, the Melbourne Cup and other sporting occasions.

It shouldn’t appear as a shock – nor should really it be regarded a coincidence – that we see a 20% increase in loved ones violence on Grand Ultimate times when misogynists like McGuire and thugs like Carey are portrayed as the voices of intellect and respectability during the broadcasts of previously physically violent affairs.

Australia ought to reckon with the notion that domestic abuse and glorification of violence is common in our tradition – primarily when a single of our most cherished pastimes is bristling with rhetoric from the mouths of men and women so intrinsically connected to all those things.

That these people are propped up and transmitted into our homes on television screens should really prompt shame for the state of Australian lifestyle – if not disgust.

Understanding the booing of Adam Goodes

Even a a lot extra benign pundit these kinds of as Jonathan Brown, has spent most of his professional life voluntarily hurling his encounter into all fashion of sites, which has resulted in a number of serious head and facial injuries. His undertaking so, nevertheless, acquired the significant praise of commentators at the time, just as other players’ related steps are generally referred to as “courageous”, “brave” and “heroic.”

They plunged their bodies into the reliable grass area, or into fellow gamers, in pursuit of catching a ball. That does not make them brave or heroic – it tends to make them imprudent, intemperate individuals in a weirdly savage and puerile exercise – they should not be praised or thought of part versions for it.

Australia’s favourite sport is littered with rhetoric that glorifies self-inflicted violence and violence inflicted upon some others. In 2016, a game amongst Geelong and Port Adelaide broke out into an monumental brawl at quarter time – a spectacle that Brian Taylor gleefully celebrated in its place of condemning. This form of party isn’t isolated – equivalent types materialize each individual weekend and degrade Australian modern society in the approach.

As the AFL returns from its COVID-19 hiatus, I hope Australians can start to see its violent vernacular for what it is and probably instil some dignity and amour propre into our culture.

Alex Hipgrave is a writer principally involved with social and political concerns. He is at the moment finding out a Bachelor of Arts at Edith Cowan University, majoring in literature and writing. You can stick to Alex on Twitter @alex_hipgrave.

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BBC – Culture – The world’s current lockdown obsession

Your starter for 10: More than 300,000 people attended a virtual tournament of which sport in March this year? Some clues: it’s a staple of get-togethers between family and friends on Zoom, and was the subject of the biggest hit of British television during lockdown. The answer? The humble quiz.

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Right now, we can’t get enough of fingers-on-buzzer rounds, even if that’s tricky to replicate on Houseparty. More than 10 million UK viewers tuned into Quiz, the dramatisation of the attempted swindle on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? by an army major, his wife and a fellow contestant in 2001. Quiz, which hits US screens on AMC on 31 May, also reveals the obsessive nature of the pastime’s fanatics, some of who went to extraordinary lengths to appear on, and win, Millionaire.

Quizzes have always appealed to obsessives, especially those with a knack for storing and retrieving specific information about capital cities, recurring characters in The Simpsons, and which western astrological star sign is represented by the twins Castor and Pollux (Answer: Gemini, the twins sign – the clue is in the question, quizzers).

Some of the appeal of quizzes was people hearing themselves on the radio – Alan Connor

The first publically-organised quizzes, US spelling bees of the 1930s, favoured alphabet aficionados. Then radio gave the quiz a boost with shows like the BBC Transatlantic Spelling Bee, which featured Harvard, Radcliffe and Oxford university students as contestants. During World War Two quizzes were re-tooled to fit the national mood in the UK, with snappily titled games like World War Two Air Raid Wardens Training Bee.

Quizzes gained popularity because they gave normal people access to the airwaves. It’s a key factor in their enduring appeal, says Alan Connor, author of The Joy of Quiz: “Normal people didn’t get to read the news or give lectures on air. So some of the appeal of quizzes was hearing themselves on the radio.”

Once television got in on the act, quizzes got more entertaining and general knowledge questions gave the public an opportunity to exercise their grey matter. “We go through school being rewarded for retaining information,” Connor tells BBC Culture. “In the adult world nobody cares about how much we know or how quickly we can recover it. And so a quiz is a great way of doing something with this information that we all carry around in our heads.”

In the Post-war era, the US television networks added a fresh incentive to quizzing: the chance to win big money. The 1950s saw the rise of high-stakes game shows in the US like The $64,000 Question. Money heightened the risk in quizzing, and it made for gripping drama. But the big money shows took a knock in the late 1950s, when it emerged that many were rigged to favour certain contestants, a con depicted in the 1994 Robert Redford film Quiz Show.

In the UK, University Challenge originated as an antidote to scandal hit quizzing – no prize money was involved, and the questions were mostly high-brow. It was based on an American student quiz, College Bowl, but quizzing for prestige has remained a curiously British tradition since. Question: The winner of which similarly high-minded show takes home a Caithness glass bowl? (Answer: Mastermind).

In the hotseat

But it was a British quiz show that upped the money stakes in quizzing. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was an enormous success at home (watched by more than a third of the British population in the early 2010s) that became a global franchise, and the setting for the Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, adapted from Vikas Swarup’s novel Q&A.

Quiz, adapted by James Graham from his play of the same name, poses questions about the Millionaire fraud but it also looks under the bonnet of a quiz show to show how a great one works. And Millionaire’s creators took great care to make it irresistible. They hired a masterfully unreadable host in Chris Tarrant, perfectly mimicked by Michael Sheen in Quiz. They racked up the tension with a darkened studio, an ominous score (inspired by Gustav Holst’s The Planets) and placed mics inside the contestant’s chair so the audience could hear every nervous twitch.

With multiple-choice questions and no clock to beat, Millionaire brought us closer to the hotseat than ever before. “It stopped being a mere spectator sport, like say Mastermind, and became interactive,” says Graham. “You had time to huddle with your family and wrestle with the question and the four possible answers. It allowed you to go on an enjoyable journey towards the answer, replicating exactly the experience of a pub quiz.”

The pub quiz was a touchstone for Millionaire’s makers, who wanted to create a show as serious about the pastime as participants took the British midweek staple. Though small-scale local quizzes were originally staged in the 1940s by the Women’s Institute as a way to keep husbands away from the pub, by the 1980s drinking establishments had started using them to draw customers in on otherwise quiet weeknights. Estimates suggest that, just before the coronavirus crisis, more than half the UK’s 40,000 pubs ran quizzes, with a dense web of quiz leagues operating at local and national level. 

The obsession with quizzing reached criminal levels with Millionaire. Major Charles Ingram was found to have been helped to his £1m by another contestant, whose cough signalled correct answers. But that investigation also uncovered a subculture of quizzers intent on exploiting weaknesses in Millionaire’s game.

Being right is still a very popular British pursuit – James Graham

The Syndicate, a team of corduroy-wearing, middle-class quizzers, found ways to get on the show numerous times, and arranged for contestants to call their best quizzing minds during the Phone-a-Friend round, for a cut of the winnings.

They are said by ITV to have cost the show around 10% of the show’s £50m prize money paid out over Millionaire’s run. For the writer of Quiz, James Graham, these Millionaire obsessives were driven by more than just the hard cash. “I have to believe it wasn’t just the winning,” he says. “I like to think that the pursuit of knowledge was also a factor. And The Syndicate proved that being right is still a very popular British pursuit.”

Serious quizzers or not, we all can relate to the feeling of being right. Dave Clark, Mastermind champion 2008, who has also won the Brain of Mensa twice, knows the feeling better than most. So what is it about quizzes that hold the answers for him? “I have a naturally inquisitive nature, I’ve always amassed useless knowledge without even trying,” he says. “The first time I played, I discovered I was good at it, which appealed to my competitive nature.”  

The pub-league world is fiercely contested. Clark, an English teacher in South Wales, has had to bow out of tournaments because of “bad feeling” when his team kept winning. It didn’t help that he’d move to a new quiz and start a winning streak there too. “All it would take would be to win three times in a row and the sniping would start,” he says.

Still, the motivation is less about beating others than getting stuff right. “There is nothing better than that moment when you dredge something up from your memory that you didn’t know that you knew, that little snippet that you never in a million years thought could ever be asked in a quiz,” says Clark, whose final round subject on Mastermind was the history of London Bridge. “You actually learn from quizzes. My favourite quizzes are usually those where it isn’t just about what you know, but about applying what you know to help work out what you don’t know.”

Right now, there’s a lot that we don’t know about, like when lockdown ends and we can see our families and friends in person. In the meantime, we have the quiz. “It’s a way of being with people,” says Connor, usually a TV-quiz question editor who has been organising virtual quizzes for family and friends during this period. “There’s not much good stuff to talk about at the moment, and there’s no sense when we do gather virtually that anyone is going to ask what everyone has been up to because we already know the answer.”

So quizzing, with its twists, turns and tie-breaker questions, adds an element of surprise to the midweek group chat. It also, in a time of uncertainty, offers the comfort of knowing that someone always has the right answer.

Quiz is available to view in the UK now on ITV Hub, and in the US on AMC from 31 May.

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