Category: icon

The People Who Really, Really Love Mark Zuckerberg:

“Something funny is going on in these comments,” the NBC News reporter Ben Collins tweeted last Thursday, watching a Facebook live-stream of Mark Zuckerberg giving a speech at Georgetown University.

Zuckerberg’s talk was about the company’s commitment to “voice and free expression.” He elaborated on Facebook’s recent decision not to vet political ads for lies, before outlining the difference between Facebook’s policies and those of one of its main rivals, the Chinese company TikTok, which has been criticized repeatedly for censorship.

All the while, comments streamed down the side of the video, often so many at once it was hard to read them. They were nearly universally positive. Many were gushing. Almost all of them seemed to be about Mark Zuckerberg as a person—a great person!—and virtually none were even remotely related to the content of the speech. Not only had these people tuned in by the tens of thousands on a Thursday to watch a software company’s CEO discuss corporate policy, but they were blessing him with prayer-hand emoji and hearts, thanking him for his genius and his generous spirit, and occasionally, it seemed, trying to flirt with him.

“You’re looking very handsome and dashing …” one read, with a kissy-face emoji. “Looking very sweet and cute … Lots of love for you.” It ended with a fire emoji and a peace sign. “This man left an indelible footprint in the sands of time. Thanks a lot for this wonderful platform called FACEBOOK,” went another.

The replies to Collins’s tweet were full of suspicion. These had to be spam, or bots gravitating toward any video with sufficient engagement, or an astroturfing campaign organized by Facebook’s PR team. There could not possibly be this many people who love Mark Zuckerberg this much. Fast Company quickly published a piece that said the comments “sure look censored”; minutes later, Facebook was on the record with several outlets denying any interference. When a post or video has an extraordinarily high volume of comments, Facebook automatically sifts through them using “ranking signals” to filter out inauthentic or “low-quality” posts, a spokesperson told The Washington Post, but nothing was different for this particular stream.

Once the stream ended, it was easy to go back and find negative comments (“LIZARD,” “Liar,” “Oppressor of free will, free speech, and the king of manipulation of the weak-minded!”), as well as a fair amount of total gibberish, but it was also fairly obvious that the thousands-upon-thousands of super-positive comments were not from bots. They were too specific and strange not to be real.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah

Steve Jobs and the Cult of Apple by Benjamin E. Zeller | The University of Chicago Divinity School:

The death of Steve Jobs clearly affected many members of the cult of Apple, as was evidenced by the creation of the memorial shrines. Rather than dismiss this phenomenon, scholars of religion in the public sphere should take it seriously. The loss felt by Apple enthusiasts was real. That is because they have invested in their relationship with Apple as a company and an ideal, and Jobs was the human face of that ideal. A sign left at the memorial outside the flagship 24-hour Apple Store in Manhattan featured a message deeply revealing of Apple as symbol. “Keep Thinking Different,” it declared. Other notes amplified that theme of the cult of Apple as representing a form of individualistic self-identity and definition. Another thanked Steve for “changing the world for good.” Many of the messages followed the latter theme, emphasizing Jobs as a prophet of technology who changed the world for the better. For adherents of the cult of Apple who created these shrines, Apple as an ideal and Job’s innovation in particular represented a world-changing and -shaping force. They mourned his death just as followers of any other prophet or messiah would…..

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah

The gospel of Elon Musk, according to his flock:

Last year, hospitalized and bedridden for several months following a suicide attempt, Salina Marie Gomez turned on individual notifications for Elon Musk’s tweets. Her interest had been piqued in late 2016, after hearing about Musk at work. She looked him up and watched an interview — the one where he’s talking about SpaceX and the challenges it faces as a company. The one where he tears up a little. A few months later, while she was stuck in bed recovering, her admiration grew into something more. 

“That was the only thing that was giving me hope, you know, to keep going,” she told me over the phone earlier this month. “I realized, like, ‘This is why I haven’t made a whole lot of progress with my own career, my own endeavors, because I haven’t been seeing the whole picture. I’ve just been seeing what humanity has been doing wrong, and not what we’ve been doing right.’”

Today, Gomez, a 39-year-old artist living in Westmont, Illinois, is working on Tweeting Me Softly, an illuminated book of Musk’s tweets. She considers herself more of a follower than a fan, explaining that fandom is for artists. “Not that I don’t consider him an artist,” she says. “I consider him one of the best artists. But I wouldn’t consider myself a fan because [the word] implies a kind of a blind obsession with a celebrity.” She is, however, a fan of what he’s doing. “Specifically getting us away from fossil fuels, getting us away from the addiction to oil,” she says. “[He has] a bigger, complete vision of where we’re going as a species, and is helping people remember that progress is good, and it doesn’t have to be this terrible thing.”

Gomez describes Musk fans as “woke” and unafraid of what’s wrong with the world. She believes Musk is making our planet a better place, and that his detractors are just consumers who “don’t want to be inconvenienced.” Journalists, she says, “cherry-pick” stories to piss him off. “They use them as weapons,” she says. “And it’s inappropriate, because what he’s doing is dire and essential for human survival … Sometimes media is there to really stop what he’s doing.” Gomez continues: “As a supporter of what he’s doing, [I’ve] become enraged because this is my future, too. And this is my planet, too.”

Gomez isn’t alone. She’s one member of a vast, global community of people who revere the 46-year-old entrepreneur with a passion better suited to a megachurch pastor than a tech mogul. With followers like her, Elon Musk — the South African-born multibillionaire known for high-profile, risky investments such as Tesla (electric cars), SpaceX (private space travel), the Boring Company (underground travel), and Neuralink (neurotechnology) — has reaped the benefits of a culture in which fandom dominates nearly everything. While his detractors see him as another out-of-touch, inexpert rich guy who either can’t or won’t acknowledge the damage he and his companies are doing, to his fans, Musk is a visionary out to save humanity from itself. They gravitate toward his charisma and his intoxicating brew of extreme wealth, a grand vision for society — articulated through his companies, which he has an odd habit of launching with tweets — and an internet-friendly playfulness that sets him apart from the stodgier members of his economic class. Among his more than 22 million followers, all of this inspires a level of righteous devotion rarely glimpsed outside of the replies to a Taylor Swift tweet.


Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah