I just watched an interview with Noam Chomsky. He gave an hour to a podcaster with less than 500 followers on YouTube (disclaimer: he more than doubled his follower count after featuring such a big name). I think we agree that follower count does not always equal content quality. Still, we continue to use and support the platforms which snowball accounts with many followers and leave the rest unseen and unheard. This is just one of many major problems with current social media. In this article, I will look at where content we are connected to on social media is sub optimal and how it’s affecting us.
Why does social media push sub optimal content?
We are connected to people and content which we chose to follow or which algorithms see us reacting to, whether that’s positively or negatively. That means we love it or we hate it. We never even see the stuff in the middle — the ideas which we may not know enough about to follow or comment on which could open our minds and act as a bridge to understanding other perspectives.
On social media, people bash each other for whatever they are doing, even when they agree almost fully
After seeming to critique popular social media platforms through his actions, Chomsky continued to do so through his words.
Unfortunately, a large part of social media is just engaged in small scale squabbles: did this guy say a word wrong or say it right, and driving people into closed bubbles where they hear nothing but reinforcing their own views and don’t begin to engage in these general issues. And by cutting off access you lose a lot.
The follower system allows people to build their own safe ‘fortresses’ of ideology where they are constantly delighted by confirmation bias and are never challenged to understand other perspectives. See my last article on the need for this. Meaningless judgement is then placed on content that doesn’t meet our standards of ‘perfect’, and our good ideas are primed to be picked apart. All the things that followers agree with are often overshadowed by these little details. This is just a waste of time, and it doesn’t accurately represent opinions.
For instance, consider a post by a prominent AI leader at Google. The discussion will most likely consist of other AI-minded people in business and data science considering how well new techniques or technology will achieve business goals: in short, how well they will make money. No one will stop to question underlying assumptions which this bubble already agrees on like what roles AI should play in business or if our capitalist reality is limiting AI’s potential for humanity.
Short Attention Spans
Social media also rewards content designed for short attention spans. Short texts cannot possibly argue their points, let alone change someone’s mind through proper reasoning. We are left with short, unsupported, and highly opinionated blanket statements. Content creators may feel content with their short statements, assuming that all their followers. This just means that whenever someone does manage to wander into the conversation from an outside perspective, they will be met with extreme lack of context, misinterpretation, and most likely anger. The alternative is content of very little value at all, like, “doesn’t my avocado on toast on the beach look good?”
Disagreement is not just strengthened by misinterpretation. This form of disagreement is utterly unproductive, since people are caught arguing their points against nobody.
One way squabbling shows itself is through whataboutism
Chomsky refers to the emergent term whataboutism as a sin. It is defined as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.” It refers to when people point out other problems to draw the attention away from the issue at hand.
Whataboutism in practice
During the recent uproar against the overturning of Roe vs Wade in the US, I saw a few Instagram posts that said something like, “look, I think that is import and all, but what about all of the huge problems you are all ignoring?” This has been a repeating trend I’ve noticed for other major political events, truly belittling justified, honest, and productive thoughts from those affected.
We should not be discouraging good action, regardless of what other action is being neglected. There will always be neglected issues and more work to be done. The important thing is that something positive is being done. The alternative is not a social media that solves all world problems. Rather it is a social media where everyone is afraid to say what they think and zero progress is made.
He’s not criticizing disagreement
Chomsky is of course not saying that we should all just get along and ignore the problems we see. He is saying that social media is not doing a good job of facilitating productive discussion. There isn’t room to support ideas with reasoning, let alone to make any full argument. People only become more sure that they don’t agree with each other. I think you are starting to see the downhill spiral we find ourselves in.
And you wonder why we are so polarized?
In research paper Political Polarization During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Sebastian Jungkunz highlights some of the pressing results.
Affective polarization has increased substantially in the United States and countries of Europe over the last decades and the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to drastically reinforce such polarization.
While many factors are working together to brew the polarization we find ourselves in, social media is one of the key culprits.
But the internet has so much potential
People don’t just put out bad content. Social media pushes bad content. And many people want to be popular on social media. You can’t necessarily shame them for that, either. The ones who stay true to themselves are often the hardest to find.
Not only does this really suck, but the internet has huge potential for connecting different perspectives and opening minds. While our pre-social media social circles did not suffer from the problems mentioned above, they were still of course limited to our physical communities, industries, nationalities, etc. The internet and globalism eradicated all of this.
Today we can speak instantly and directly with anyone in the world who would like to. Each one of us could have access to more diversity than anyone who lived before us! If we make a huge but very possible (and I think inevitable) shift, we could be the least polarized, most open-minded generations yet!
Hunome is fighting narrow thinking by letting everyone be heard
Hunome is a thought network and social network. At Hunome, we aim both to pop your suffocating bubbles and give you access to high quality thinking from everyone. Forget follower count. Forget short, blanket statements that lead to misinterpretation, closed bubbles, squabbling, and polarization. Say hello to following organic trains of thought the way. To multidimensional and multidisciplinary perspectives. To serendipity, to creativity, to innovation, to understanding.
is the question I really really hope you’re asking right now! Just because someone on the internet tells you something that supports the narrative you subscribe to (the bubble you’re living in), does not mean you should blindly listen!
Anyway, I’m happy you asked! You seem like someone who will fit right in at Hunome (asking good questions is a fantastic place to start).
The first part of the answer is pretty simple. Within the thematic spaces you search and show interest in, our algorithms and inherent structure will prioritize connecting you with new ideas and those from people with different profiles from you.
Next, the unique structure of Hunome ensures that even if you land on a thought that may live within your bubble, you will quickly find your way out. Anyone, regardless of their follower count, credentials, or bubble of thought, can ‘spark on’ their thoughts from any idea that inspired them. Thusly, when viewing a thought by someone with many followers, you are almost always just 1 click away from exploring thoughts written by someone with zero followers. As you follow trains of thought from one idea to the next, you will quickly find yourself far outside of your bubble, exploring new content from new perspectives but from a context you understand. Authors will be encouraged to write for all audiences, assuming that the only context a reader has are the ideas directly preceding their own.
Lastly, popping your bubbles will remain our north star, so we will continue to innovate in this field. We will be using advanced AI techniques to lean from what makes you creative, reach understanding and connect you with the Sparks that will reach you the most.
The best way to answer all your burning questions is to try it out!
I want to know what you think!
- What questions do you still have for me?
- What do you value in a source over follower count?
- How can the platforms of the future support quality content over fame?
- With the powers of social media bubbles, globalisation, and others I haven’t mentioned pushing against one another, are we aimed at a more or less polarized future?
- Help me pop my bubble! What did I get wrong?
Jungkunz S (2021) Political Polarization During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Front. Polit. Sci. 3:622512. doi: 10.3389/fpos.2021.622512
Levy, Alex, director. Noam Chomsky: on the Russia-Ukraine War, Through Conversations Podcast, 16 Apr. 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Z5sNAr8qI.