reddit

Memes, as originally described by Richard Dawkins in 1976, are ideas that observe the evolutionary laws of survival and selection— today best exemplified by the digital information that "goes viral" on the internet. It is worth noting that while "going viral" in its popular understanding refers to the speed and extent to which an idea spreads (not to mention the echoes of the "computer virus," which for most users implies unintentional infiltration and autonomous mechanical force), encoded within the term is replication—a key component of the virus's reproductive cycle. A virus creates a genetic copy which spreads to other hosts, who replicate the virus and spread to others. Assuming that there are no factors to inhibit replication, this process ensures an exponential rate of growth. Thanks to this process, many people are familiar with the most evolutionarily fit cultural touchstones.

This the logic of cultural replication, which we might consider as an essential part of an information ecosystem (to continue our biological metaphor). Ideas are able to spread in hospitable environments, and our ecosystem stays in equilibrium insofar as the idea does not become an invasive species, a la the Kudzu vine in the American South, or the Brown Tree Snake in Guam. When these ideas take over, efforts to limit their growth become increasingly difficult. Cultural entities become self-enforcing and more deeply entrenched. Dissent becomes impossible.

Here we can see the strained cultural ecosystem of the social news site Reddit. Through its dynamic (open source) software, registered users are able to submit content to the site, which is then given "upvotes" or "downvotes" by the rest of the community. An algorithm tracks these votes, giving each submission a score based on community approval. Higher scoring submissions are seen higher on the page, thus ensuring a cycle that guarantees them more visibility and thus more votes. Because the top-scoring submissions receive the most views, this content is the most likely to spread to other users, giving them a template for popular cultural values and thereby producing a homogenous belief system on a massive scale. This process of information pasteurization applies the principles of memetics to the ethos of virtual community, ensuring that new submissions conform to its cultural standards (lest they never succeed) and users never receive their "karma."

Enter the hivemind. The multiple acting as one, all in service of information replication. Resistance is futile. Labor is distributed amongst users, and the community begins assimilating. Thousands of people collectively combed through pictures from the Boston Marathon in 2013, sending out real-life delegations to harass the people that they identified as "suspects" in the Boston Marathon Bombing. Jay Wilds, who became famous on the Serial podcast for his suspicious activities in the investigation and trial of Adnan Syed, received a deluge of threatening messages and surprise visitors at his home. Anita Sarkessian has been the target of the bastions of misogyny and cultural neanderthalism that are r/TheRedPill and r/MensRights. In each instance, the Reddit community collectively riles each other into a dangerous frenzy, all because the site's information architecture accelerates memetic development by virtually and physically rewarding behavior that reflects the hivemind. Dissent is squashed and downvoted into oblivion in order to ensure continued replication.

You can't help but agree. Upvotes to the left. You concur with what I say. Upvotes to the left. Do not disagree. Upvotes to the left. You can't dissent. Upvotes to the left. Add to the score—make the numbers go up. Upvotes to the left. Up up up. Upvotes to the left. To the left. To the left. To the left.