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Port: On the 'We the People' rally, or when the Facebook bubble float into real life

The organizers and attendees of Monday's We the People rally in Bismarck want to be told they're right. Told that their causes are just. That the world isn't changing in ways that are scary and challenging. Unfortunately for them, the world doesn't work that way.

PHOTO: Jay Lundeen
Jay Lundeen, District 40 chairman for the NDGOP and organizer of the recent "We the People" rally in Bismarck, seen here in a Facebook live video recorded on November 8, 2021 (Screenshot)

MINOT, N.D. — We all know that the algorithms used to feed us content on social media platforms, Facebook in particular, can be isolating. They feed us what we want to hear to the point where the window through which so many Americans see the world — politics, culture, their communities, etc. — becomes an echo chamber.

Social media promotes the "formation of homogeneous, polarized clusters" of humanity, a research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, has confirmed this finding. "The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook," she told CBS . "And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money."

This is the Facebook bubble. It's real, and it's harming our society. Worse, these bubbles seem to be metastasizing into other areas of life.

Consider the "We the People" rally held Sunday in Bismarck at the beginning of the Legislature's special session where attendees expressed their disdain for vaccines and the people who support vaccines.

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The rally was organized by a group of Minot activists ( with an assist from some national figures of dubious character ), chief among them Jay Lundeen, a businessman who was elected chairman of the NDGOP's District 40 committee this spring who, last time I spoke to him, asked me to help raise funds for local Republicans by serving as a dunking booth clown ( I politely declined ).

In a reception held after the rally, Lundeen took to the stage for a victory speech of sorts, a not-insignificant portion of which he devoted to shouting about me while being cheered on by a room full of leering Trumpy activists ( watch the first 5 minutes or so of this video to see what I'm talking about ).

But more interesting than Lundeen's fixation on me (I've been insulted more creatively by better people than Mr. Lundeen) was what he said before he descended into a red-faced, spittle-flecked diatribe.

He talked about another venture of his, The Dakotan , which claims, like so many ideologically driven media startups before it, to be dedicated to the actual truth and not that truth you get from the lamestream media, etc., etc.

You know the schtick. There is some real money being invested in this startup. It has actual employees. Editor-in-chief Greg Demme, per his social media postings , left his previous employer because of a vaccine mandate. The writer of most of the content on the site so far is former Minot Daily News reporter Kim Fundingsland. One of the most visible advertisers on the site is a property management company owned by Mike Blessum, the NDGOP vice chairman in District 5 who was involved in an ugly incident with Rep. Mike Nathe , R-Bismarck, back in May .

Lundeen is the registered agent for the limited liability company behind The Dakotan. From the podium in Bismarck, he talked about how it was distinct from other news outlets. "It's our media," he told the crowd.

True to form, The Dakotan told Lundeen's crowd exactly what they wanted to hear about Lundeen's rally. The "crowd of more than 2,000 began to cheer for rally organizer Jay Lundeen," the site purported.

I'm guilty of underestimating the crowd size in my column yesterday (as I noted, I'm terrible at doing those estimates), but the actual audience count was in the ballpark of about 1,000, give or take.

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Which is a very good number, if well short of what organizers expected , particularly given that it was at noon on a Monday.

Photo: We the People rally 25 minutes in
A photo of the We the People rally in Bismarck, North Dakota, taken November 8, 2021, at 12:25 p.m.

There's nothing particularly new about rich guys funding astroturf media as an exercise in ego and ham-handed activism, but the innovation at The Dakotan (I risk elevating this venture beyond its merits by using that term) is that it seems to be an effort to float the Facebook bubble off that platform and into the larger world.

I'm not surprised that Lundeen and his fellow travelers dislike me. I have many faults, but I don't believe pandering has ever been among them. If you're looking for someone to tell you what you want to hear, I'm not your candidate.

But that's what people like Lundeen and the other attendees of the We the People rally seem to want. To be told they're right. That their causes are just. That the world isn't changing in ways that are scary and challenging.

READ MORE FROM ROB PORT

  • Port: 'We the People' rally draws just a fraction of expected turnout Attendance fell far short of the thousands organizers prepared for.

  • Port: Anti-vax North Dakota lawmaker, an organizer of today's We The People rally, comes down with COVID-19 "Thank you, brave soul, for getting me Ivermectin, which now with covid, I am able to stay out of the hospital," Rep. Jeff Hoverson wrote in a Sunday, November 7, post. "Covid is real and like a really bad flu. I am currently quarantining and each day is getting better."

  • Port: Ultra-conservative North Dakota lawmaker took some big, fat, forgivable government loans There's nothing wrong with getting a PPP loan. Millions of Americans received them. I'm glad Rick Becker found help for himself and his employees. There is something wrong, however, with an ideological zealot who spends most of his time throwing rhetorical rocks at people he deems not sufficiently conservative getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in government loans.

Again, Facebook, which pervades our society in so many profound ways, has spent years feeding us a steady diet of what we want to hear, and by doing so has created an expectation for that sort of thing in the real world.
It's not just conservatives. The Facebook bubble works on liberals, too, who, in turn, expect cultural and ideological homogeny from outlets such as The New York Times and CNN who happily package and deliver that product just as Fox News and talk radio hosts around the country make a living from serving that demand among conservatives.

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I've been involved in politics for a long time now. When I was younger, I would get angry at my inability to win political debates. I'm older now, and today recognize that there is no winning in politics. Our goal shouldn't be to change one another but to find ways to live peacefully with our differences.

What troubles me is that the Facebook bubble has created a very different expectation among large swaths of the populace, and they're pursuing it in some discomfiting ways.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a columnist and podcast host for the Forum News Service. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com.
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