by Mary Harrington
Monday, 26
July 2021
Reaction
11:20

The attention economy turns violent in Asda

A recent supermarket brawl was powered by digital incentives
by Mary Harrington
Digital technology was not good to this man.

A brawl broke out in the Clapham branch of Asda last Friday, leading to the arrest of two men in their thirties and two women in their late teens. All four of the individuals were dressed in superhero costumes.

They stormed into the store, jumping onto shop display cabinets and shouting, before staff and security intervened. One of the ‘superhero’ men punched a female shop floor worker. A separate clip then showed a chaotic fight that seemed to be taking place in the stockroom.

Reports have emerged that the aim was to create viral content. The channels have since been deleted, but on Friday a TikTok account still existed that showed several similar (albeit less violent) clips involving misbehaviour by people in superhero costumes.

There have been a number of increasingly high-profile debates recently concerning Big Tech, notably worrying about the power of platforms to censor speech now that platforms controlled by private companies have to a great extent become the public square. But there’s less debate about these platforms’ core business model, in which we receive free access to communications infrastructure in exchange for our attention, and a willingness to allow others to make money from the data this attention creates.

Over the past two decades this has driven the emergence of an ‘attention economy’, which careers can be made out of competing for clicks. But over time the competition itself has shifted the tone of discourse to an ever more febrile key.

Those who grew up pre-internet, and remember the Before Times, wring their hands about ‘polarisation’ and ‘culture war’. But those fluent in the attention economy recognise that in practice there’s little difference between positive and negative attention. When attention garners the rewards, eyeballs are eyeballs.

Thus we find race-baiting activist group Black Hammer setting out a recruitment strategy based on saying outrageous things they don’t really mean, then leveraging the outrage clicks to siphon membership off more moderate competing groups.

Elsewhere, in ‘influencer’ land, it’s largely irrelevant whether Oli London genuinely identifies as Korean or not. The fact that he was sufficiently willing to act as if this is the case that he’s undergone cosmetic surgery, and in the process prompted heightened coverage (including, of course, this mention) has raised his profile.

Against that backdrop, ‘talent’ consists less in having a discernible real-world skill than in a facility for securing clicks. Those who lack wit, inventiveness, beauty, or interesting opinions, are thus incentivised to seek attention in the most direct possible form: staging public disorder for voyeuristic consumption online.

To put it more clearly, a logical consequence of the attention economy is talentless people treating antisocial behaviour as a business opportunity. This group judged the boundary wrong, and will likely receive some kind of sanction from the criminal justice system as a consequence. But while the incentive structures remain undisturbed, we can expect the attention economy to go on cannibalising the social contract.

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Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

The oddest thing about that Asda event was the several men-folk all around that man assaulting that poor woman just stood there like lemons. I found that disgusting. Why didn’t they just pile into him and bring him to a halt?

Mark Goodwin
Mark Goodwin
1 year ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Too busy recording it on their phones?

aaron david
aaron david
1 year ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The Whimper of Whipped Dogs indeed.

Diana Durham
Diana Durham
1 year ago

But we don’t have to watch them.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Diana Durham

Degenerate social actions placed on Social Media are still wrong if nice people choose not to watch them. The bad effect is not on you, but on the susceptible who have borderline, or full, antisocial tendencies. Good men not doing anything about sick trends is all that is needed for societal illness to increase. Feral young are always a problem, but when they run in packs they need coming down on hard.

Al M
Al M
1 year ago
Reply to  Diana Durham

Can’t say I have ever sought this out. Your point?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago

“To put it more clearly, a logical consequence of the attention economy is talentless people treating antisocial behaviour as a business opportunity.”
Sounds like an uprated version of the old economy.

Al M
Al M
1 year ago

From ITV: Two men aged 35 and 37?

One of whom appears to be the [email protected] who sucker-punched the poor woman who worked there. Do we now have the feral middle aged?

Hopefully a nice stretch in the jug might help them act their age.

Last edited 1 year ago by Al M
DA Johnson
DA Johnson
1 year ago

The last two paragraphs are golden.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

Sounds like a misfired prank to me.
Better that than joining a gang or Mafia carrying guns or knives . THATis antisocial .

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Sounds like a misfired prank to me.” “Better that than joining a gang or Mafia carrying guns or knives”

“Knockout game
“Knockout game” is one of the names given in the United States by news media and others to assaults in which a person attempts to “knock out”, with a single sucker punch, an unsuspecting victim. The assaults have similarities to the happy slapping trend seen in Europe, in which camera phones are used to record assaults”

Your sort of ‘Its better for thugs to kill puppies than to kill people’ attitude may be true, but does not excuse the former.

Al M
Al M
1 year ago

So you think it’s a binary choice and better happy slapping a supermarket worker than gun crime? Ever considered that neither might be the preferred outcome?