Pile-on – Take It Out Of Context, Rake In The Clicks

None of this is based on anything that is actually happening in objective reality. It is all a result of a persons subjective internal representations of the real world. This is, in the long term, a source of friction in their life. While it may not matter one way or the other what is being sold by Goop or what the click-author is writing, the brain is learning new habits about what triggers the release of reward chemicals and creates a sensation that is perceived as having a positive valence. And being a brain, it will start to apply these lessons to other things in order to get more of the reward chemicals.

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Let’s consider Goop for a second, and notice how the site is used by content creators, along with some manipulation techniques, to trick people into reading and believing things that are not not true, not real or did not happened.

Goop is Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, a web site along with some brink and mortar locations selling things that she may or may not endorse, know about, or like. There is some debate about how deeply versed she is in terms of the products that they sell but what is not up for debate is that SHE is the biggest part of the brand.

On one hand, she is a very beautiful women and a remarkable and successful actor, so I’m sure there is no financial reason for her to create a lifestyle brand that sells things – she has a net worth that is north of 100 million US dollars. While on the other, she is a human being and likely has the same needs as the rest of us to do meaningful work and to contribute to the betterment of society and the world in whatever ways makes sense to her.

I’m willing to believe that Goop is her effort to satisfy this need for contribution vs. some need to generate more wealth. Fine, in principle, maybe less so in practice. The challenge for her is to balance this need to do good for other people with the need for honesty or more fundamentally, to do not harm.

She isn’t a doctor and has no obligation to uphold the Hippocratic Oath. But she also doesn’t need the money, which makes the way forward for her a lot less clear. This is where she sometimes stumbles, which over the long run has transformed Goop into a gold mine for people who are looking for a topic to write about that is certain to generate a lot of page views.

To say that Goop sells some questionable products would be an understatement. They sell a lot of good products as well as a lot of harmless products meaning some of their stuff will help people directly while some of it will trigger a placebo response allowing it to become helpful. Even when no placebo effect is triggered, some of the stuff will make people feel better, which is a nice thing to feel. Regarding the stuff that is benign, while it is not necessarily a problem on its own, making false claims about its merits IS a problem. It is a problem in that making unsubstantiated claims, particularly those in the realm of health, is illegal and grounds for prosecution or the levying of fines.

The remainder of the stuff that they sell, be it products or ideas, are actually harmful. This is a problem for two reasons. The first reason is that you shouldn’t be selling anything that harms other people. That is a shittie thing to do or to be a part of. No one should do it and in the event it happens by accident, corrective steps should be taken immediately to make things as right as they can be. The second reason it is a problem is that it calls into question the validity of EVERYTHING they sell, which makes life tougher for the people who engage the brand with an earnest desire to learn something true or buy something that works. Since it isn’t obvious what is valid, what is dangerous, and what is harmless, you are faced with three choices – assume it is all good, assume it is all bad, or take the time to verify the accuracy and validity of the claims being made about the product or idea.

Goop has now become more than what it was before. In the eyes of many people it has become a punchline or joke. Those who view it in these terms see it as place for new-age alternative health people to go to and buy their useless trinkets just to get a feeling that they are somehow closer to Gwyneth Paltrow. The believers in the brand are nothing more than easy marks who have disposable income to throw around. The view is that these people would be spending their money somewhere so all Goop is doing is giving them a place to spend it. That is the nature of capitalism so it is easy to just assume that the customers are trying to live a better life and have a genuine belief that Goop will bring this experience to their door.

This is the real problem. The fact that Goop and therefore its customers are viewed so harshly means that Goop has become the perfect object to use so someone can signal their virtue by writing a “hit” piece. “Look how dumb these people are?” is a passive aggressive way of saying “I’m smart” and announcing to the world that what else you have to say is important and worth consuming. Most of the time it isn’t because their piece really just amounts to a tribal attack on a group of people who are not in a position to defend themselves and who are NOT the same thing as Goop. In this way, Goop has become a cash cow for people whose worth is generated via page clicks.

I don’t care much for people. I want them to have as easy a life as they feel they deserve and to experience as much joy as is possible under the circumstances of their life, but when it comes down to what I think and feel about people that I will never have any contact with, I don’t want them to suffer and that is basically the end of it.

However, I believe that the source of most suffering is an incomplete or inaccurate internal view of the world. Friction is created when we take an action, which is basically just the manifestation of a prediction our brain makes about an outcome, and it does not generate the desired result. The easiest way to avoid or reduce this friction is to do nothing, which is very effective as it completely eliminates the possibility for errors. But this isn’t a practical approach. So assuming that we need to do stuff, anything that we can do to improve the accuracy of out internal representation of the world will, over time, reduce friction by increasing the quality of our predictions.

Goop makes this very unlikely now that they have gained the reputation for selling products / ideas that are based on pseudoscience, a reputation that coats the entirety of their offering as pseudo-scientific nonsense. The consequence of selling jade eggs is that it paints their articles as being a part of the same thing. It also means that the click sellers can park on the site waiting for the next thing to pick apart and then write their own article about it. They KNOW that their target audience will eat it up because piling-onto the “Goop is nonsense” bandwagon aligns people with others and makes them part of a tribe that believes they know more and that is smarter than Gwyneth Paltrow and her brand believers.

This isn’t really much of a problem if the Goop article or product is useless or is dangerous. The readers may get some useful information about a product / idea that should be avoided, but I’m not convinced they gain this information via any critical consumption and analysis of what is contained in the click sellers article. It is much more likely that they made the decision to read the article in order to have their preconceived view – that Goop markets and sells useless stuff to people who do not know any better – validated. It is a reaction more than a cognitive operation. Seeing “Goop” followed by a product immediately initiates a series of unconscious thought processes that have been conditioned through experience and that cause the release of reward chemicals. On the simplest level, perceiving the word “Goop” is a pattern match, which is rewarding. The feeling that Goop is nonsense for people who don’t know any better creates the us : them dynamic which manufactures a sense social connection or belonging, which triggers the release of reward chemicals. The fact that the click seller article supports the readers preconceived belief serves to validate it, which triggers the release of more reward chemicals. The final significant factor is that the chemicals that create the sensation of outrage just happen to be energetic to the individual who is experiencing the outrage. Taken together, all of these things mean that any article that is written about anything that appears on Goop will trigger the release of reward chemicals in the brain of reader and it will boost their energy level. The articles are reinforcing and they cause a physical sensation that serves as a “hook” to further consolidate the habit of reading the articles.

None of this is based on anything that is actually happening in objective reality. It is all a result of a persons subjective internal representations of the real world. This is, in the long term, a source of friction in their life. While it may not matter one way or the other what is being sold by Goop or what the click-author is writing, the brain is learning new habits about what triggers the release of reward chemicals and creates a sensation that is perceived as having a positive valence. And being a brain, it will start to apply these lessons to other things in order to get more of the reward chemicals. This is how someone can very quickly learn how to automatically and uncritically ingest nonsense believing that it is fact. As they do this more often, their world view gets further pollute rendering predictive accuracy even lower.

Addressing the behaviour of the click-authors, they are no better than the Goop people, and may actually be bad actors. They are writers, journalist, and content creators. They have not agreed to uphold the Hippocratic Oath, so they do not necessarily have a moral responsibility to do no harm, but as human beings, they do have, in my opinion, a social responsibility to leave the world at least no worse than how they found it. Using psychological manipulation to generate clicks and income is not rent seeking behaviour; which is passively making a profit from doing nothing. They are actively doing something that adds no value and which can have a long term negative impact on the lives of their readers.

When the Goop product does work, or when the idea is actually worth considering and learning, their actions ARE a problem. By writing a “Goop is stupid” article about something that is actually helpful, they are moving their readers away from the truth by triggering the learned click-wirr reaction that arise when dealing with non-truths, nonsense or falsehoods. Once these reactions start, whatever meaning they indicate is automatically and unconsciously paired with the content of the article. The outcome is that facts will be not be considered as facts and will instead be encoded as being wrong. This will further erode the quality of their readers internal representation of reality.

Recently, Goop posted an interview with Traci Mann, Ph.D. in an article titled Busting Diet Myths. As is the case with the predatory authors who write click-article, there was some stuff in the Goop article that they could use as the foundation for something they would feed to their readers to trigger the reward chemicals and outrage. The problem is, the stuff wasn’t actually in the article. Traci Mann was very clear on what she was suggesting as a better approach towards weight loss and there wasn’t anything in what she said that is the least be controversial from a scientific point of view. However, the Goop article was not written in a defensive form meaning that it was easy to take some of the stuff out of context. And since there is money to be made by the click-authors, many of them did, creating a non-existent narrative and then put these words into Traci Mann’s month. While this is not slander, it is a pretty dirty move, especially when you read what she actually said and realize that her advice makes sense and is workable for everyone.

Of all the things that Tracie didn’t say that click-authors attribute to her, the most dishonest centred on the words “leanest liveable weight.” I have to admit, I had no idea what that meant when I first read it. It can mean “the lowest possible weight and body fat percentage that you can have without showing any physiological impairments.” It could also mean that lowest possible weight and body fat percentage that you can maintain without having to resort to heroic actions. The first interpretation is about survival, the second is about quality of life. While a person can live without any low weight health concerns at a body fat level of 5-12 percent depending on gender, maintaining such a low body fat level SUCKS. The long term health outcomes from someone who maintains a low body fat percentage vs. someone who maintains one that is 5-12 percent higher is not significantly different. However, the quality of life outcomes tend to be very different simply because staying at 5-10 percent body fat is a full time job that consumes so many mental cycles that there are practically no reasons to ever do it.

If only there was a way to know what Traci was talking about a person would be able to stop guessing between two possible points of view. It sure would have been nice if someone had taken the time to write an article about her thoughts that captured exactly what she meant.

Good news, someone did! Not the click-authors, but Goop. When one takes the time to read the original article, there is a section titled “what does “leanest livable weight” mean and how do you determine this number for yourself?” Her explanation can only help to clear-up any misunderstanding or provide a completely clear one. But you have to read it, consider it, and figure out how it might work in real life.

Okay, I have a back ground in this stuff, so her explanation was easy for me to read, understand and imagine implementing. But I have no reason to believe that a lay person could read “your leanest livable weight is the weight at the low end of your set range. Your set range is a genetically determined range of weight that your body generally keeps you in, despite your efforts to escape it. If your weight is below that range, biological changes due to calorie deprivation happen, and generally push you back into your set range. However, if you stay within your set range—at the lower end of it—you should be able to maintain that weight without your body making those negative changes” and think she was suggesting that you should starve yourself and get to the lowest possible body fat level that will not cause health concerns.

BUT a lay person would need to read that paragraph and possibly take some time to consider it, which is not something the click-authors recommend that their readers do. Not surprising given their lack of respect for the people why are targeting with their articles.

Consider the following exert, which is very similar to the ones that appeared on various “news” web sites”:

Speaking this weekend, Dr Yeo branded the advice “dangerous” and said it encouraged eating disorders.

“This is a dangerous suggestion, as many people will take it to mean they should be as thin as possible,” he said. “It is irresponsible because the idea is so open to misinterpretation, especially for young girls susceptible to eating disorders. The problem with many of Goop’s recommendations is that they are not based on science, but pseudoscience.

https://www.stylist.co.uk/people/leanest-livable-weight-advice-gwyneth-paltrow-goop/312039

The advice is not dangerous, although following though on a misunderstanding of it might be. But I fail to see how anyone could misunderstand it if they were to read the Goop article, something that the piece in stylist.co.uk does almost NOTHING to encourage people to do.

The rest of the quote contains conjecture, an inaccurate syllogism, and that lumping thing that click-authors are so keen to do when they pile-on to a topic that they believe their readers will consume.

Worse than just being misinformation is the wasted opportunity that Dr. Yeo had to clarify any confusion by unpacking what he knew Traci was saying or reasonably should have known she was saying. His qualifications as a doctor heighten the level of responsibility that he has for making sure things ARE understood, although his role as a presenter on BBC’s Trust Me, I’m A Doctor may be interfering with this.

Goop is part of the reason that people have become afraid of eating. We need to love our food, just eat less of it.”

https://uk.sports.yahoo.com/news/gwyneth-paltrow-goop-weight-advice-120839612.html

And there you go, while that statement may be true – in that anything is a part of the reason for anything else – it isn’t very true. It suggests two things that are a problem. The first is that it implies that Goop has a lot more power and influence than it does. Second, it suggests that people are both ignorant in terms of knowing what to eat and foolish in that they will take anything that Goop says as absolute truth. It is true that we should probably eat less food, particularly if our body fat levels are on the rise or we want to lower them BUT the quoted statement is a fractured syllogism because the the second premise is not true which renders the first premise meaningless. People are not afraid to eat therefore Goop has no responsibility for people being afraid to eat.

So what?

KNOW that people are going to lie and that they tend to lie in the same way and about the same type of things over and over again. These lies will be told for the same reason and many of the people who have a similar goal will tell the same lies and in the same ways as other people. There are patterns and you can train yourself to notice them.

Accept that learning things can hard at times but that any work it entails will be worth it in the long run. Creating an accurate internal representation of the real world is a massive undertaking because life is very complicated. It’s hard enough when we are being exposed to nothing but the truth, so it gets way more challenging when there is an unidentified source of lies around corrupting the information that we are storing. The only way we will know who and what these sources are is by listening to what they say and then taking the time to verify it. By figuring out what they are communicating and then determining if it is actually true, we will ensure that we only learn and remember things that are potentially helpful in the future.

Before reading or listening to anything, take a moment to consider the source. The most important thing here is to get clear on the persons motives and to uncover any conflict of interest they may have that could be skewing the message towards falsehood. Simply by asking the questions “how does the person benefit when I consume what they wrote” or “how does the person benefit if I believe what they are saying” you will activate a level of skepticism that is a requirement for the consumption of contemporary media.

Finally, be aware that there is a physical sensation associated with the click-wirr reaction, a confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, in group / out group thinking, and outrage. Train yourself to identify these sensations and take the time to notice when they are being triggered by the actions of another person. Any time you notice this happening, dig in a little deeper and make the call on whether or not it should be happening. Stories about suffering that is caused by greed should be alarming, stories about how person X said this a stupid thing that does not effect you should not. We evolved to react to any perceived lack of fairness, we LEARN to react to irrelevant things. Slow things down when you have to and take as long as needed to make sure you know the truth and the relevance. Once you do this, pay particular attention to who is lying, what they are lying about, and how they go about it. Knowing these three things will go a long way in helping you decide who is in it for the clicks and who is earnestly trying to broadcast the truth.

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