Stop being manipulated! Take charge of the information in your life: Seek information, not affirmation

Seek information, not affirmation; what does that mean?

If you use Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp to get news and learn about current events, you are being manipulated. The algorithms that drive these platforms create “bubbles” within which people are grouped together based on their social media use, product preferences, and other digital choices current and past.

Within a bubble, you find yourself amid other users (some of whom are software bots–not humans) who express the same opinions, like the same things, buy similar products, and more.

Meanwhile, Facebook is making billions of dollars using and selling your personal data.

Hold on, you may say, isn’t a customized online experience useful? And, I like to be around other folks who think like me–it’s comforting amid our polarized world.

But, how did our society become more polarized? Why is tribalism more pronounced these days?

Think about it … is it a surprise? The thought bubbles of Facebook and their related social media companies make it seem like everyone has the same opinions. So, when you encounter a different opinion, it seems harsh, strange, even unnatural and leads to easy bias–those people who are “far right” or “far left” or “fascists” or “socialists” or “Muslim” or “black” or “gay” or “aliens” or “immigrants” or whatever stereotype is currently in vogue.

Use your common sense. Real life–as opposed to life on social media–is not like that. We do not all think the same. We agree on many things, and we disagree on others. Debate and compromise can be very healthy for a society. Actually, having everyone think and act the same is not a good thing. Think about the rise of the Nazis in 1920’s and 1930’s Germany and the debacle of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, and other more recent examples.

So, when you are seeking information that is important to you, you need to step outside your comfort zone. To really understand a topic or an issue means hearing and considering opinions other than your own and information outside your social media thought bubble.

Those people you think are strange, even dangerous? They may just have a valid argument and understandable reasons for thinking and acting they way they do. They may not actually be strange at all; you might, in fact, partially agree with them. Or, you and your thought bubble may even be wrong; though it is really hard to admit that.

Is it easy to step outside your comfort zone and leave your thought bubble on social media? Absolutely not, and it is getting harder every day as more and more algorithms influence how we think, how we act, what we buy, even who we communicate with.

Consider not using social media for news and current events. Use it to connect with friends and family, post information about an event; use other sources for news. You say you don’t trust the news media? Well, what is social media? It is the “news” media, as well. If you don’t trust one, how can you trust the other? Remember that post supposedly from Uncle Ed or your cousin Jane or your sister … how do you know it actually came from them? How many of the posts you receive or view actually come from a software bot or an organization trying to influence you? More than you may think.

So, when seeking important information, really look for it

  • Go outside your comfort zone
  • Listen to and consider opinions other than your own or from your bubble
  • Seek and consider information found outside your bubble/the places you usually look
  • Have an open mind; remember that human beings are not perfect–all of us and anything human-related can be wrong sometimes
  • Consider not using social media for news and current events
  • Make your own decisions about important issues; do not let others make decisions for you

… and do not just continue to affirm your own opinion.

Thank you!

Questions?  Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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