Not too long ago I uninstalled Twitter and Facebook from my phone. That’s not a big deal, I’m not expecting any kind of shock or awe from anyone reading. It’s more of a foundation for this post as a whole. Basically I’ve come to the conclusion that Social Networking, as it is currently designed, will err on the side of negativity.
That’s not inherently a problem. Negativity is just kind of something that a lot of folks find enriching mentally. It gives them dragons to overcome. Problems to champion against. It’s especially rewarding if you can invent an enemy and then tear it apart with words. Who knows, to some readers that might seem like what I’m doing now. I’ll do my best to at least defend the position slightly.
I suppose the first step is something I’ve already groaned about previously. The algorithm. Social Networking was not built for your convenience. Any SN that you have ever used was created in order to generate ad revenue. This is not an evil, per se, but it does come with some serious caveats. The first is understanding who the customer is with a SN. The customer is not you. You are the product in this relationship. The customer is the businesses that are advertising to you. This means that the SN will prioritize anything that engages people.
The next thing I hope you can accept is that moderate viewpoints do not motivate people to act excessively. Posting that you enjoyed your time eating a hamburger might net you some number of views, likes, and perhaps a modicum of retweets. Moreso if you are a celebrity. But even then, relatively speaking, the number of “interactions” you will get for saying something genuinely awful will dwarf moderate commentary. This is also true of bombastic attacks on strawman in the opposite direction. I have many times seen an innocuous comment on Twitter become the harbinger of a lynch mob. As mentioned before, creating a dragon to defeat is incredibly intoxicating. I used to do it a lot myself.
If you can accept that Social Networks are designed to maximize interactions, then I hope you can also accept that SNs additionally do not care about the quality of those interactions. A hundred million people enraged at Donald Trump, interspersed with Taco Bell ads, is just as lucrative as a hundred million people talking about the weather, with the same ads. If these presumptions are acceptable to you then I would hope that the idea that SNs would, and not necessarily with malicious intent, be harbingers of spreading misinformation and negative discourse is not unpalatable.
There is no incentive for Twitter or Facebook to curate misinformation or trolling. Unless there is an enormous amount of negative feedback from users. For some people this might be enough to support my point. But allow me an additional point. Imagine, if you will, that the algorithms don’t give more weight to negative interactions. Even in this environment the SN would still be predominantly a tool for passing along lies. Because if all messages have the same weight then you still have the issue of desire paths. Quite nearly all things, living or otherwise, follow the path of least resistance. If you are a plumber, there is only one job I can say that is honest to your work status. But I can lie a thousand different ways. I could say you are a carpenter, an engineer, a clerk, etc. Knowing that you are a plumber requires I do any level of research. Simply lying does not.
Politically this is incredibly problematic. It takes no effort for me to say that one candidate is a killer or the other is a rapist. And these kind of bombastic claims will get replied to, retweeted, liked, etc. They’ll end up on the trending for Facebook or Twitter (or elsewhere). They now have power, momentum, and all of this required absolutely zero effort from me. All I did was log in and lie. Combating these things requires effort. You must do research, post links with sources.
This means that, as things stand now, all obvious futures lead to these services being more powerful for liars or manipulative people. The only possible path I can see away from this is if basically everyone decides that information is more important than confirmation. Which, to me, is incredibly unlikely. Anecdotally thinking to the number of times people I agree with still coming after me. It would seem the warrior mentality is going to kill any chances of this river flowing towards progress.