I Read A Lot, and it occurred to me a few weeks back that I should share a link in each newsletter to something I found interesting. I describe what it is so that readers can decide if they might also find it interesting, but I sure didn’t expect one reaction from this week’s “plug” of an article, from Vox’s “Recode” sub-publication, which is about “Uncovering and explaining how our digital world is changing — and changing us.”
The title: “Why Some Biologists and Ecologists Think Social Media Is a Risk to Humanity”. Sounds like important stuff!
It fits in with what I’ve been saying myself. The essay, by Shirin Ghaffary*, is here.
I commented, “I’ve said that I thought Facebook (especially) is evil. I’m not the only one, and it gets both worse and more specific,” and linked to the article. I also mentioned that I do still post to Facebook (and a couple of other places) because I have many followers who I’m hoping to attract to read more thought-provoking material, rather than the mindless junk food from “doom scrolling.”
Jordan in California
Jordan, a 20-year Premium subscriber, was first to comment — he was clearly thinking (edited slightly for brevity):
I have come to agree that Facebook is evil, but I’d be interested to know why you think so. I think it’s evil because FB has set itself up as a judge of what is and is not misinformation, of what theories are and are not acceptable to talk about.
Algorithmic selection of how material is presented is worrisome because of the “echo chamber” effect, where if you’ve expressed an interest in X you will be given more X, so pretty soon X dominates your world.
Human selection is worse, because it means that the cabal decides what people see and talk about.[But] even in areas where I might agree with them, do I think that opposing discussion should be suppressed? No.
Why? (I replied.) Mainly because they design Facebook to be addictive. Misinformation? Just more engagement! They thus encourage it.
But I’m less concerned about what they allow to be discussed: it’s their platform, and if they don’t want people talking about ice cream, fine: ban such discussions. That said, being so arbitrary about it — and in their responses when challenged when they spank over things that aren’t actually in their rules — is a problem, and ties in to “evil” IMO.
I’m not sure if “algorithmic selection” is “evil,” but it does add to the problem. So does their “suppression” when it becomes so arbitrary, whether done by AI or humans.
“Bottom line is,” I concluded to Jordan, “the essay I linked gives food for thought, even if you don’t agree with every conclusion.”
Not Entirely Evil
It’s not that I think Facebook and other social media is valueless: it’s great that we can stay in touch with old friends and family, and find groups to share niche interests with. We just have to work to shut down what Facebook tries to shove down our throats: I’m ruthless in “unfollowing” various “friends” that I’m not actually interested in knowing about their everyday lives, photos of their kids that I haven’t met, etc.
Plus I won’t even accept a friend request when I can’t remember exactly who they are and where I met them, so it’s extremely rare that I’ll accept a request from someone I’ve not met in real life.
Then There’s Sharon, Also in California
She had quite a different tack:
Of most concern is the fact that you are touting as good reading an article that quite openly supports mass media – and social media – lies. To condone a source that condemns any sources that provide real, honest, verifiable and objective information about masks and vaccines is the pot calling the kettle black. I’m truly saddened that you are a person who apparently believes only the marginalized mainstream litany of truth. Very disappointing.
Why don’t you take me off your subscription list as a result.
Um, you’re welcome?
So… you think I should be responsible for everything that some other writer in some other publication that I’m not associated with in any way, and have merely mentioned is “interesting reading”? You actually believe I agree with everything in every piece I read or point out?
Well, that “thought” would be freaking stupid.
Hell, I couldn’t have told you that the essay had even talked about “masks and vaccines.” I was simply intrigued by the thesis that “while some social scientists, journalists, and activists have been raising concerns about how [social media] is affecting our democracy, mental health, and relationships, we haven’t seen biologists and ecologists weighing in as much” — and now they have.
Ah, There It Is!
For example, the paper says that tech companies have “fumbled their way through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, unable to stem the ‘infodemic’ of misinformation” that has hindered widespread acceptance of masks and vaccines.
…the only use of “masks and vaccines” in the entire piece, which doesn’t even editorialize — that’s simply a quote: see the quotation marks? I bolded them in the segment above especially for Sharon.
“Algorithmic selection of how material is presented is worrisome because of the ‘echo chamber’ effect, where if you’ve expressed an interest in X you will be given more X, so pretty soon X dominates your world,” Jordan wrote above.
Man: talk about a great example of that.
Because one little aside in a lengthy piece doesn’t resonate with Sharon’s tiny worldview, she not only slams her eyes shut to the essay in some other publication, she demands never to see a publication she liked enough to have read for more than ten years (and pay for over the past several years!)
Oh boo hoo.
Obviously, Sharon thus has no subscriptions to any newspaper, because they certainly talk about things that are contrary to her narrow world view — no TV shows (fiction or news), no magazines, no professional publications, and hell, no friends because they might say something about masks or vaccines or something else she disagrees with! Eeek!
Well, that’s absolutely guaranteed, isn’t it?
Can you say “Echo chamber, chamber, amber, mber, ber, r!”?
For shit sake how many times can I say that True is about thinking before it actually causes someone to think?
“To be open-minded,” writes Wayne Riggs, a professor at the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Philosophy, in the journal Metaphilosophy, “is to be aware of one’s fallibility as a believer, and to acknowledge the possibility that anytime one believes something, one could be wrong.” (emphasis added)
Not Sharon: she actively shuts down anyone who innocently points out someone else has a different idea than she has. She is not only closed-minded, she wants to be sure she stays that way.
Not exactly the sort that should be a This is True reader. Or… is that the sort of person that should be a This is True reader?! Wouldn’t that make this a better world?
What’s your take? The Comments are open.
* I find it notable that author Shirin Ghaffary’s Ethics Statement is considerably longer than her bio.
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