Sunday, November 7, 2021

Pathological Social Media

Politico interviews social psychologist Jonathan Haidt about political extremism and what, if anything, we can do about lessening it. It is an interesting read, perhaps worth your time. One thing Haidt says I find particularly riveting.

We are in a fundamentally new era — since 2012 — which makes it difficult to use history as a guide. As I see it as there is a before time, which is before 2009, and there is an after time, which is after 2012. What changed in between those years is that Facebook added the like button and Twitter added the retweet button. Thereby social media became far more engaging. Millions of people flooded on. All journalists flooded on to Twitter.

Now any set of beliefs can be fostered in a community completely separate from any objective reality. This is especially happening to the extremes.

What has this led to? To empowering the extremes, Haidt believes.

A fundamental law of our times is that the average does not matter. So even if 80 percent of people are fed up, it does not matter since after 2012 the dynamics are different. In the old times 80 percent was bigger than the 20 percent — or at least as big as 20 percent. Now 80 percent is not nearly as big as the 20 percent. So, yes, most people are fed up but it does not mean things will change.