I’m guessing that I’m not the only one that’s spent a lot of time today thinking about how we got to where we are today. Let’s just say it’s going to be hard for me to write this post without prolific use of profanity. You’ve been warned.
Despite the pile of burning feces that has been the 2016 election, I love my country. I love that we had the freedom to fuck up so spectacularly, and I love that I’m allowed to sit here at this computer and speak my mind knowing full well that my words will reach your eyes uncensored. It is this deep love I have for my country that’s causing my pain now.
Any day you wake up and the American Nazi Party and KKK are considering the presidential race a huge success is a bad day. Hell, the Canadian immigration site crashed last night! That reminds me . . . we may be in for a tough few years, but DON’T RUN AWAY FROM IT. You stay here and fight like I’m going to, dammit.
So, how did we get to this terrible, no good, very bad day? The answer is: constant affirmation of opinion and propagation of misinformation through the echo chamber effect. That’s a lot of fancy words crammed together to make my point succinctly, but I’ll explain in detail below. Before I do, I’ll give you a hint right now: if you’re interested in this topic, but see the length of this post and decide not to read it without giving it a chance, then you’re a part of the problem. To paraphrase John McClain, quit being a part of the problem, and read on.
First, how did this craptastic election happen?
Facebook uses algorithms to show you things on your feed that you probably want to see. In fact, those algorithms are designed with the specific goal of, ideally, not showing you stuff that you would NOT like to see. They know all about you, and they use that to make sure you keep going to Facebook every day by trying to keep you happy.
What that means, in short, is that, once Facebook recognizes that you’re pro Hillary or pro Trump, it shows you posts that match your preference while trying to filter out posts that do not. So, when you post up something stupid like “Hillary sacrifices goats to appease the pagan god of electronic communication,” the people that see it are your friends that don’t like Hillary, so they laugh, like your comment, and share it with their friends, who also don’t like Hillary. Inevitably, some dufus somewhere believes it, and starts presenting it as truth.
You see that everyone seems to agree with what you said and think, “Well, damn, I must be right! Look at all the people that agree with me!” Then, you see a meme that says something about Trump and ponies that a two-minute Google search would tell you is absolutely false, but you like the picture, and it’s from a friend that you trust, so you share it with your other Facebook friends, and thus you become a conduit for misinformation.
The more opinions you express, only to have dozens, or hundreds of people agree with by clicking the stupid “like” button, the more certain you become in your beliefs because, hey, people agree with you and like what you have to say!
Because of those damned algorithms, you never see opposing viewpoints, and discussions are rarely had in a meaningful way on the rare occasions that someone has the audacity to disagree with you. Why? Because all of your friends that do agree with you can see that one jerk-bag that doesn’t, and they all pile on the poor soul who dared speak his or her mind.
For example, you’ve got a comment thread with 10 participants. One of those guys disagrees with you, while the other 9 attack the dissenter, claiming that she is stupid and uninformed. Who are you going to side with? The 9 people you already agree with, or the 1 person that everyone is calling a moron? In fact, how likely are you to even take that her points seriously when put in that context?
This is a fucking problem. (Sorry Mom, the expletive is warranted in this case).
Oh, and it’s not just Facebook
In fact, most services on the internet are purposely and meticulously designed to show you things you’re most interested in while helping you to avoid things that you don’t like. Search for headphones on Amazon? Great, every time you go to the site, for the next few days, you’ll see headphones everywhere and they’ll send you emails to show you that you clicked on a pair.
Searching for anything on the internet is designed to make it easy for you to sift through results to find only the links that you’re predisposed to click. That’s why Google serves up context with your search results.
What I’m saying is, your entire digital life gets more and more tailored to deliver things that you like all the time. You’re being encased in a magical information bubble full of things that you consider good and right, and that bubble is actively, and purposely isolating you from anything that might upset your precious worldview.
This is how the 2016 election happened. We all lived in our happy, little bubbles and promptly shut down any stray thought that entered our space, regardless of what that thought had to say.
Again, this is a fucking problem.
How do we escape from these evil info-bubbles? How do we fix this?
I could tell you that it’s Facebook’s fault. They shouldn’t filter anything. They should allow you to think for your-damn-self, showing you only a simple, chronological stream of content from your friends. You’d get unfiltered opinions, and so would everyone else. Hell, it’d even save them considerable development costs.
I could tell you that it’s the news media’s fault. They make it easy for you to focus only on what you want to believe thanks to an endless, 24-hour news-cycle and about a million points of entry. They also sensationalize everything in a contemptible, but obvious bid for higher ratings, which can greatly skew the perceived magnitude of whatever it is they’re “reporting.”
I could tell you all of that (and more), and while it’s all true to a degree, the real problem is us. People need to make an active effort to go outside of their comfortable info-bubbles, and experience what people with differing perspectives and ideas actually have to say. You need to, in short, diversify your sources of information, and learn to filter out the crap for yourself. You need to understand that what we do here in the USA doesn’t just impact us, but also the entire world.
I mean, for the love of all things holy, we just elected a guy whose presidency is considered to be one one of the top 10 global economic disasters that could have hit good ol’ Earth this year. I knew that months ago because I like to read both conservative and liberal news sources, and a good many of them originate outside of the USA. Our news media, for whatever reason, barely covered this economic gem at all because apparently taking a more global view doesn’t earn big ratings.
But guess what! This very issue sure as hell impacts our daily lives here in the USA. If the US dollar goes down in the world, it hurts all of us, so that economic news was pretty damned important, regardless of media coverage.
So here’s what you do . . .
Go outside of your comfort zone. Disagree with someone. Have a discussion. Hell, have a debate! Do NOT dismiss this other person’s ideas out of hand. Instead, go research what that shehad to say, and check multiple, diverse sources from your region and from outside of it. Learn the biases of your news sources, and adjust your perception accordingly. Make sure whatever you’re reading or watching is providing verifiable facts (which they should do by providing sources of their own). If your news site doesn’t provide sources that you can trace all the way back to the story’s origin, than your news site isn’t a news site at all, and you should find a new one.
To sum up: we fix this by being smarter. The tools required to be an informed citizen don’t just exist, but they’re more powerful than they’ve ever been. You just have to put forth a little extra effort to use them properly.
If you disagree with my assessment, then that’s fantastic! Tell me so! Add a comment! Let’s talk about it and discuss it like adults and come up with a better idea and solution! That’s kinda the whole damn point.