from the seems-notable dept
We not too long ago wrote about Joe Bernstein’s wonderful Harper’s cowl story, which argues that we’re all taking a look at disinformation/misinformation the unsuitable approach, and that the proof of disinformation on social media actually influencing individuals is enormously missing. As a substitute, as Bernstein notes, this concept is one which many others are closely invested in spreading, together with Fb (if the disinfo story is true, then you can purchase advertisements on Fb to affect individuals in different methods), the normal media (social media is a competitor), and sure establishments with a historical past of getting authority over “fact” (cannot let the riffraff make up their very own minds on issues).
We have additionally seen different proof pop up questioning the supposed malicious affect of social media. Yochai Benkler’s work has proven that Fox Information has far more of an affect on spreading false info than social media does.
And even with all this proof concerning disinformation, there are additionally individuals who concentrate on perspective, and demand that social media is answerable for in any other case good individuals turning terrible. But, as was lined in an fascinating On the Media interview with Professor Michael Bang Petersen, there actually is not a lot proof to assist that both! As Petersen defined in a helpful Twitter thread, his analysis has proven that there isn’t any actual proof to assist the concept social media turns individuals hostile. As a substitute, it exhibits that people who find themselves assholes offline are additionally assholes on-line.
However within the interview, Petersen makes a very fascinating level concerning echo chambers. I have been skeptical about concept of on-line echo chambers prior to now, however Petersen says that folks actually have all of it backwards — and that we’re really way more more likely to stay in echo chambers offline than on-line, and we’re more likely to return throughout totally different viewpoints on-line.
A technique to consider social media on this explicit regard is to show all of our notions about social media the wrong way up. And right here I am fascinated by the notion of ‘echo chambers.’ So we have been speaking quite a bit about echo chambers and the way social media creates echo chambers. However, in actuality, the largest echo chamber that all of us stay in is the one which we stay in in our on a regular basis lives.
I am a college professor. I am not likely uncovered to any one who has a radically totally different world view or radically totally different life from me in my on a regular basis life. However after I’m on-line, I can see all kinds of opinions that I could disagree with. And that may set off me if I am a hostile individual and encourage me to succeed in out to inform these folks that I feel they’re unsuitable.
However that is as a result of social media basically breaks down the echo chambers. I can see the views of different individuals — what they’re saying behind my again. That is the place a whole lot of the felt hostility of social media comes from. Not as a result of they make us behave in another way, however as a result of they’re exposing us to a whole lot of issues that we’re not uncovered in our on a regular basis lives.
After which this the wrong way up view of echo chambers additionally explains why individuals really feel just like the web is a extra hostile place stuffed with assholes and trolls. It is extra that it is as a result of we’re now being uncovered to those factors of view and may reply. As he notes, this sort of hostility really occurs on a regular basis, but it surely’s often simply not witnessed by greater than a pair individuals at a time. Now, on-line, it is witnessed by a a lot bigger viewers, and so we overcorrect and assume that it is making individuals worse.
In our offline lives, there’s a whole lot of hostility as properly, however that occurs behind closed doorways, in personal. It occurs in bars the place we can’t hear what’s going on. However we’re uncovered to all that once we enter the web realm.
One other attention-grabbing tidbit within the interview (and in his Twitter thread) is the concept individuals who are likely to share misinformation typically know that it is misinformation, however they do not care as a result of they’re simply so centered on pissing off the individuals they do not like (see: “proudly owning the libs”) that they do not care. It is extra vital to anger the “different aspect” than to share legit data. This was based mostly on an in depth research they did of individuals on Twitter.
The people who find themselves sharing misinformation aren’t ignorant. They’re used to navigating social media and the web. They know extra about politics than the common individual. However the place they’re actually totally different from the common is that they have way more destructive emotions in the direction of members of the opposite occasion. And that is actually what’s predicting, not solely their sharing of faux information, but in addition their sharing of actual information. They wish to derogate folks that they do not like, and they’re actively trying to find info that they’ll use for that function.
So it isn’t that social media turns individuals into assholes, nor does it put them into echo chambers the place their minds are turned to mush by disinformation. The proof means that some individuals — who had been already predisposed to such sorts of “us/them” bickering, simply soar proper into the fray on-line as a type of standing factor to anger the individuals they do not like. As a result of these individuals can really hear them now.
Later, he notes that it isn’t that they are purposefully sharing misinformation — it is simply that whether or not or not one thing is true or false is “not a part of the calculus.” All that issues is mainly “will this set off individuals I dislike.”
After which the interview brings us again round to an identical challenge that we famous with Yochai Benkler’s analysis in regards to the issues of Fox Information. Petersen notes that his analysis has proven that Republicans are likely to share considerably extra misinformation than Democrats, but it surely’s not as a result of (as some individuals consider) the relative training ranges, however somewhat that the media ecosystem arrange for Republicans (i.e., Fox Information, OAN, Newsmax, and many others.) is way more designed to feed them the varieties of reports that they wish to share for this very function — the “personal the libs” type of tales. Although, as he then notes, the truth that these varieties of reports sources exist and feed into that is (just like the social media panic) extra of a symptom, somewhat than the actual downside.
Misinformation just isn’t, in itself, an enormous downside. In order that’s the excellent news. The unhealthy information is that it is a symptom of a a lot worse downside. And right here we come again to the polarization in society, as a result of that’s what’s driving the sharing of misinformation. I feel we have been focusing quite a bit on the signs — Fox Information, Trump, Fb — however I feel that there’s some proof that implies that rising inequality during the last decade has been a elementary driver of political instability within the US and past. It is an issue in lots of Western Democracies. That is the place I might begin to search for options.
All of that is fairly fascinating — and backed up by his analysis. And, it does get again to the purpose that a few of us have been making for years. That social media is not a lot “the issue” as it’s a mirror that displays the sorts of societal issues that civilization has been coping with for hundreds of years. It is simply that now it performs out in a approach the place extra individuals can see all of it occur.
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