Monday, October 24, 2016

Our (Crazymaking) Election

By relying on social media for political news, we run the risk of inadvertently backing ourselves into partisan echo chambers or feverish debates in which some, if not many, of the facts are wrong. 

A recent look at hyper-partisan links on Facebook found that a high percentage of the pages examined included misleading or false content. Approximately 38% of the hyper-republican "news" reviewed was deemed untrustworthy, while nearly 20% of the hyper-democratic "facts" Buzzfeed staff combed through proved suspect. 

Biologically, we are ill-equipped to favor facts over belief. We experience a dopamine release when our ideas about the world are confirmed and tend to double-down on our pre-existing beliefs when our views are challenged. Social media is rife with algorithms tuned to our engagement and reactions.

If we explore hyper-partisan links on Facebook, we are more likely to see similar content in the future. Our browsing behavior thus reinforces any political extremism we may be experiencing. It has the dangerous potential of polarizing us while simultaneously divorcing us from reality. 

We increasingly find ourselves in bewildering conversations where information we hold to be self-evident and true is met with utter disbelief by the people with whom we share our country and our lives.

Since Facebook has no vested interest in vetting the information shared on its platform for reliability, the onus is on us to reestablish common news sources that are held to rigorous standards of accurate reporting and to root ourselves in respectful civic relationships that go beyond the bounds of social media.

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