A frame from the Apple “1984” commercial.
Donald Trump, the sustainability of the KKK, Occupy anything, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Holocaust deniers, Climate Change doubters and everyone wearing man buns all share one insidious commonality: Facebook.
More specifically, they have in common the unnatural effects of rabid fans chattering on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and hundreds more services that allow us to censor the information we allow into our smartphone windows on the world.
The self-sustaining buzz creates a lot of noise, but in a small group, allowing something that maybe isn’t always good for our culture to incubate, grow and eventually, to hatch.
Orwell got it wrong in 1984.
Bradbury got it wrong in Fahrenheit 451.
It won’t be a totalitarian regime that gives us a dystopian society.
It will be ourselves.
Facebook and other crack-like addictions are engineered to let us self-censor our perspectives, affecting how we view our neighbors, teachers, co-workers, and even our children, our understanding of geopolitical challenges, and our very understanding of ourselves.
What do you share? What do you read?
These networks create insulated, closed-minded communities that only read and share one perspective, repeated, parroted, memed, and repeated.
It’s peer pressure, writ large.
If you’re uncomfortable with this indictment of our ubiquitous behavior, I’ll cut to the point right now:
If you make one New Year’s resolution, make it this. Follow a new blogger or news outlet with which you disagree.
More on this at the end of the article. First, some perspective on just how often we’re consulting our circle of friends.
Realize that we’re checking Facebook 14 or more times a day.
We miss our child’s winning soccer goal because we were reading a post from our high school study buddy about his kid’s soccer game.
Why can’t we stop looking? Because Facebook is more addictive than cigarettes, according to the University of Chicago.
These shared “news items” are how the entire Internet learned about the blue and black (or was it white and gold) dress back in February.
It’s how this month, 119,997 people shared a fake Facebook post about a burned dog that actually had a piece of ham on its face. Pray for this poor burned dog. 1 share – 10 prayers. And they believed the hamdog was truly horribly disfigured. Until someone pointed out it was ham.
Meanwhile, hundreds of children, adults and the elderly were killed, or worse–raped then killed– last year in South Sudan and no one talked about it. The story, still on SFGATE has 0 comments as of this moment. Maybe that will change.
We follow only those we like or agree with. And that’s what we read. Then the algorithm serves us more of those posts.
And when something we dislike somehow manages to sneak past those software gates, we can instantly block that person or source forever, report it, or hide the post. Done. No more of disagreeable ideas. Just more of people agreeing with us.
And the way things go viral is when they’re so innocuous and so UNIMPORTANT that our right wing and left wing friends can talk about them with equal ignorance or wisdom, and we allow them through the filters. They make it to our feeds not because they’re important but because they’re inane.
Because we don’t care enough about whether a dog wears pants on its bottom half or on its back half to actually block our friends with whom we disagree. We let this discord permeate our closed-minded, insulated circle. We comment on them, talk about them, and share them again.
And the important things going on? We don’t even know they exist.
Consider all the fuming people, rending their garments to say the media never covered all those terrorist attacks on non-whites before the Paris attacks. Many people got worked up, shaming the media about not covering the 147 killed in Kenya by gunmen. Then the media fought back.
We simply posted the links to our stories and said, as San Francisco Chronicle editor in chief Audrey Cooper wrote on Facebook, “Don’t mistake reading your FB feed for being an active consumer of smart news.” Then she posted this article that explains it best.
Narrow mindedness is now normal mindedness.
I’m an anachronism. I do something every day without fail. Something 70% of people my age do not do. (I’m 41). I read a daily paper. Cover to cover, at least the headlines.
The numbers of us reading a daily newspaper has been plummeting since the rise of social media in 2008.
The reason I do it is because I want to see the broad perspective on all the news. I know (personally) the vast team of editors, writers, layout staff, and the copy desk have meticulously gone over every part of this to make sure it’s an accurate reflection of what happened in the world and in the Bay Area during that 24 hour period.
The other alternative is also dying: the evening newscast. Along with it, balanced reporting
Fox News is rising, with an unapologetic bias. I’m fine with the existence of the network. I’m just not fine that those who follow Fox News don’t hear any other opinions because they no longer read the paper, or watch the objective newscasts from ABC, CBS, and NBC that are broadcast for free to everyone.
Cable can narrowcast. The Internet can microcast. But now, anyone and everyone can broadcast something that will reach the entire world with their often un-researched and unconfirmed and unchecked views.
It’s how we can deny climate change because our feeds are cleansed of any points we disagreed with.
And Donald Trump’s “brilliant ideas” are lauded among his fervent followers while the context of his embarrassing, imbecilic, childlike rants are suppressed by the same algorithms. The right get righter and the left get lefter. And in the middle, the informed, the open-minded, and the intelligent get angrier. Or give up.
The tyranny of personalization that leads to self-directed mind control, groupthink and xenophobia
A group that wants to win your hearts and minds doesn’t need to burn the books. How quaint was that. We stopped reading them long ago. These overlords merely need to create great memes, preferably with cats and clever white block, sanserif text.
The only solution I see to the homogenization of ideas in our culture? We must purposefully subscribe to Facebook feeds with which we disagree.
If you make one New Year’s resolution, make it this. Follow someone or preferably some media source with whom you disagree.
• If you’re a Democrat, follow Conservative Daily.
• If you’re a Republican, follow Occupy Democrats.
• If you want it lighter, and you’re an evangelical Christian who doesn’t believe evolution had anything to do with anything, follow IFLScience. (Warning, expletive).
• If you’re an atheist who thinks all Christians are naive hypocrites, follow Fr. James Martin.
And please, comment on this post.
Tell me how crazy I am. Tell me what an idiot I am. Tell me where I got a fact wrong, or missed some perspective, or am a crazy conservative or whackjob liberal. Talk about this post. Because that will make more people read it, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll seek other perspectives before making the important decisions that happen in the ballot box, and not in the Facebook feeds.