#DeleteFacebook Isn’t About Data Security

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook might actually be in trouble. The #DeleteFacebook hashtag is trending, and it’s seen some unlikely contributors, like Blink 182 singer Mark Hoppus, and Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, which was itself sold to Facebook. Meanwhile, Facebook stock has dropped by 10% this week so far. The FTC has announced that it’s opening an investigation into Facebook’s business practices, to determine whether Facebook violated its user agreement, an infraction which would come with a hefty fine. Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t made a public statement about the matter yet, but he’s been summoned by the UK Parliament. The bad news keeps piling up.

The obvious question is whether Facebook will survive, after whatever punitive measures are dispensed. And, while it’s possible that it won’t, it’s difficult to imagine how its extinction would come about. Its users could always leave, but there’s very little individual incentive to do that, and, given that a third of the world uses Facebook, getting everybody to quit would represent a massive coordination problem. Therefore, unless Facebook is banned outright, or somehow sued into oblivion, it seems likely that it will persist, if in some sort of regulated or otherwise curtailed form.

The less obvious question is: why now? This is by no means the only data scandal that Facebook has been embroiled in. Any intelligent consumer of digital media knows very well that Facebook is harnessing their personal data, and that such data has been treated carelessly before, and used for somewhat nefarious ends. Probably the most striking example came in 2014, when PNAS published a study by researchers who quite literally played with the emotions of Facebook users to find experimental evidence of Internet-based emotional contagion. More recently, earlier in March, it was revealed that Facebook’s researchers had told advertisers that it had figured out how to identify whether its teenage users were feeling desperate or depressed—and that this could be worthwhile marketing data. Given all of this, it’s clear that data security isn’t the primary force driving #DeleteFacebook.

It’s much more plausible that what’s behind the media conflagration isn’t data security itself, but rather the involvement of Donald Trump. Some have claimed that Cambridge Analytica was responsible for Trump’s election, having provided his campaign with personal data about voters that (maybe) offered unprecedented psychologiccal leverage, revealing which precise people could be viably targeted by propaganda. If you’re anti-Trump, and you believe this, then your beloved social network has unwittingly engaged in a large-scale erosion of democracy, which is to say, a technologically-driven coup by a candidate you don’t like.

This may not even be the case, by the way. The person who’s most loudly proclaimed that Cambridge Analytica was responsible for the election’s outcome is the now-suspended CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix. Ted Cruz’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica, obviously didn’t win the election, and, as David A. Graham of the Atlantic reports, “found that CA’s products didn’t work very well, and complained that it was paying for a service that the company hadn’t yet built.” Corroborating this view is Kenneth Vogel, a New York Times reporter from their Washington Bureau, who recently Tweeted that Cambridge Analytica “…was (&is) an overpriced service that delivered little value to the TRUMP campaign.” He went on to claim that campaigns only signed up to secure access to the Mercer family—a rich line of big-time Republican donors—being that they’re major CA investors.

To sum up: Cambridge Analytica is only one of many organizations which have used personal Facebook data in a sinister manner, and its use of that data might have actually been inconsequential. If this is the case, #DeleteFacebook offers a clear lesson to tech companies, which is that it’s not actually important whether your product or service unscrupulously surveils its users. It’s more important to ensure that your company doesn’t give its data to anybody particularly unpopular, especially if they end up getting elected. If you sell your data to relatively unproblematic clients, you’ll probably be okay.

Does Social Media Really Polarize Our Politics?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s often said that social media has a polarizing effect on our politics. And, on the surface, this narrative makes a lot of sense. The polarization of politics has continued as social media has taken over our brains. And what social media does, among other things, is make a game of earning the approval of your peers, thus solidifying your group identity. When you post something that pleases the sensibilities of your cohort—whether it’s a handsome selfie or a solemn plea for stricter gun control—you get the satisfaction of an immediate bombardment of friendly notifications. The reward structure of the social media experience doesn’t provide incentives for expressing minority views, or objecting to the prevailing narratives, or befriending those who disagree with you.

Moreover, Twitter and Facebook aren’t great places for dialogue. Political arguments are usually futile in real life, even with all of the felicitousness provided by face-to-face interaction. It’s much worse when ideological disagreements need to be reduced to 280 characters, or haveto compete with cute pictures of somebody’s baby. In this setting, sensitivity and nuance doesn’t play well. What gets the most attention is pithiness and aggression. In short, social media enables the self-congratulation and self-separation of mutually hostile political factions. Sounds pretty polarizing, right?

Yes. However, there’s a big and obvious question here, which is whether this is actually any different from the pre-Twitter media landscape. Long before Facebook was ever a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, the various political classes selected the media that was most collegial to their respective worldviews. To take America as an example, in previous decades, Christian conservatives tuned into right-wing talk radio to hear about the horrors of the gay agenda, whereas elite liberals picked up Harper’s to read about the horrors of capitalism. (This is still true today, in part.) Bubbles and echo chambers exist in absence of Twitter. All that’s required to create ideological homogeneity is tribal self-selection or homophily—the tendency of people to hang out with people who are like them and agree with them, given freedom of association. That’s definitely a pre-iPhone tendency.

But, of course, it’s still possible that social media has enhanced tribal patterns of behaviour—that this is not a difference of kind, but it is a difference in degree. So, if we check the data, what do we find? Well, it appears that social media does, in fact, have an effect on polarization. It’s just the opposite effect that critics might expect. According to a demographic study by Boxell et al., published by Stanford University, political polarization is actually less pronounced among demographics that use social media more often (young people, essentially). This shows that it’s unlikely that social media is a more powerful driver of polarization than old-fashioned media. (Or it shows that, even if social media does polarize, there’s some countervailing anti-polarizing force that’s much more powerful.)

And, like the just-so story about why social media polarizes, there’s an appealing readymade narrative about why the opposite might be true. While political disagreements on Twitter and Facebook tend to be shallow and nasty, they’re still genuine disagreements—something that doesn’t usually occur in traditional media. The New York Times doesn’t contain a second page declaring that all the articles on the front page are slanted. And while it’s true that debate programs are a staple of political television, such programs are usually staffed by a preexisting team who are paid to perform a predictable set of reactions to ongoing affairs. Meanwhile, on Twitter, it’s quite easy to run into novel objections to everything you believe in, which, even if they aren’t particularly convincing, might compel more considered private reflection.

Or maybe it’s even simpler than that. It’s possible that young people are less polarized because social media is so nasty and tribal. While a minority of social media influencers make a lot of provocative noise, it’s possible that the non-contributing majority is quietly alienated by the vitriol. While a controversial tweet with 1200 retweets looks impressive, there’s no way to measure the number of users who have quietly rolled their eyes and moved on—or have simply quit Twitter altogether.

There’s a larger lesson here, which is that it’s unwise to infer narratives of societal change based simply on the most visible behaviour provoked by one app or another. (Another demonstration of this: millennials have way less sex than their parents, despite the existence of Tinder and all the moral panic surrounding it.) Ultimately, sensationalist narratives about the polarizing effects of social media are just the kind of thing that’s popular on social media.

There is No Solution to the Problem of “Fake News”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the term “fake news”, seldom heard previously, became ubiquitous. This was, of course, no coincidence: the unexpected victory of Donald Trump cried out for an explanation, and invoking the concept was one such attempt by the president’s many critics, who could not bring themselves to face the possibility that he won fairly. As one conservative commentator saw it, “just as progressive ideas were being rejected by voters across the western world, the media suddenly discovered a glitch which explained why. Fake news is the new false consciousness.” But the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda is as old civilization itself. The internet is merely a new means of spreading these, and even then, not especially new. Consider, for instance, the anti-vaccination and “9/11 truth” movements of the preceding decades, and the role played by the internet in amplifying the noises of otherwise small groups of dedicated ideologues or charlatans. So we are still left wondering: why only in the last few years has the term “fake news” entered public discourse?

A possible answer is that the point has been reached at which traditional purveyors of news feel that they no longer have control over broader narratives. Their sounding of the alarm over “fake news” is thus a desperate rallying cry in order to regain this control. Some have drawn an analogy to the invention of the printing press in the 16th century, which also revolutionized the spread of information and led to the Protestant Reformation (and of course, disinformation, such as exaggerated accounts of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition). From this perspective, it is futile to resist the changing ways in which information spreads. One must adapt or die. In many ways, Donald Trump, who began his presidency fighting off a cascade of “fake news” allegations, including about such petty matters as the size of his inauguration crowd, has done a better job of adapting to the new informational eco-system. Twitter, with its 280–until recently, only 140–character limit, has turned out to be the perfect medium for a president with a reportedly short attention span. He also uses it to bypass the mainstream media in order to reach the public directly with his own message or narrative. And the president has masterfully turned the weapon of “fake news” around, aiming it right back at the media. At the end of 2017, his first year in office, he seemed to relish releasing the “The Highly Anticipated Fake News Awards”, a list of misleading or false anti-Trump news stories undermining the media’s insistence that it is impartial.

For all its faults, however, the mainstream media does have a legitimate point about the dangers of “fake news”. There must be an objective standard against which all purveyors of news are held and there does need to be a common set–or at least core–of facts upon which all rational parties in society can agree. But this is easier said than done, and it is far from obvious that there is a “quick fix” solution to this problem that does not merely favor one set of news purveyors over another, based on criteria other than factual accuracy. For example, many in the US fear that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed changes to “net neutrality” rules will give a few major companies the ability to speed up, slow down or even block access to certain web addresses or content. Comcast, for instance, is simultaneously the largest television broadcasting company, through its National Broadcasting Company (NBC) channel, and the largest internet service provider in the United States. Should the current FCC chairman’s plans to end “net neutrality” succeed, this will put Comcast in a powerful position to regulate–effectively–much of the online media landscape according to its own financial interests as a news organisation.

Social media companies such as Facebook have come under fire for spreading “fake news.” Although Mark Zuckerberg initially argued that Facebook is a tech platform and not a media company per se, he was eventually forced to concede that whatever he had originally intended the company to be, an increasing number of people around the world did in fact get their news primarily from their Facebook newsfeed and that Facebook therefore had a “a responsibility to create an informed community and help build common understanding”. Behind this corporate newspeak must also lie a very real fear that government regulation of Facebook as a media company could end up crippling its business model. If Facebook could be held liable for the spread of false information, it would need to hire thousands of fact checkers to nip this in the bud whenever it occurs, but doing so would be far too costly for the organisation, to say nothing of the practical challenges involved. Thus, it has had to rely on very imperfect “fake news” detection algorithms, and more recently, a deliberate de-emphasis of news altogether, the idea behind this being to return the platform to its original purpose of connecting friends and family.

But it is gradually dawning on many people that the war on “fake news” may be unwinnable. This is because there is no in-principle solution to the age-old philosophical problem of how to know what is true. If anything, this problem has become vastly more difficult now that there is an abundance of information to sort through, presented to us in a non-random–but not necessarily truth-tracking–way. We would all do well, however, to exercise greater skepticism in response to all truth claims, including official ones, such as the vague claim that Russia “hacked the election”. Skepticism does not come naturally to human beings, who are notoriously credulous. One should thus be taught to be skeptical from a young age, and to favor logical consistency and empirical evidence over other considerations when evaluating competing truth claims. This approach falls well short of a real solution, but it may help us individually and collectively to navigate the treacherous ocean of information in which we find ourselves. Hopefully, we will find ways of adjusting to our current information environment and a new equilibrium will emerge from the informational chaos. Cronycle is one platform that is ahead of the curve in this respect: it not only recognizes the problem of information overload, but provides its users with useful tools for finding the trustworthy, high quality content out there in the Wild, Wild Web.

Don’t Rely on the ‘Trump Bump’ – Journalism’s Future is Still Bleak

Reading Time: 3 minutes

With the election of Donald Trump, there was a mixture of glee sprinkled in with the horror in the world of reporters and opinion writers. The new president was an easy target, both for his outrageous statements and for the ever growing cast of leaks which surrounded him, on everything from his alleged charity to work to longstanding allegations of collusion with the Kremlin. It gave rise to the term the ‘Trump Bump’ which, in journalistic circles, meant that the new Commander-in-Chief offered opportunities for big scoops, more openings in newsrooms, and a much needed cash injection for flagging establishment media from non-profits. At a time when journalism had been written off, the POTUS seemed to be going out of his way (albeit perversely) to save it.

The closure of the Gothamist and DNAInfo should put a halter on any such celebrations, even as exclusives on the White House’s potential collusion have grabbed headlines. It’s not that New York City is a ‘news desert’, particularly compared to other states – the New York Daily News and Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post will continue to scrap it out there. But the decision to shut two of the best examples of local reporting sets a worrying precedent. Whether the rationale behind their closure was truly business or whether this is a media baron crushing any dissent, it is difficult not to see their demise as emblematic of a wider problem for journalism.

Joe Ricketts, the billionaire owner of an online stock brokerage site, had founded DNAInfo (which also had offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and Washington) in 2009, and bought the Gothamist in March this year. Their coverage of local issues including crime and real estate reflected an older form of shoe leather reporting – a bulwark against the growing empires of ‘McNewspapers’ like USA Today, which repeat content across states to minimise costs.

Ricketts’ letter (to which all his former sites now redirect) lays the fault of his decision at the feet of the websites themselves. “DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” he wrote, reflecting on the fact that the enterprise never broke even. He concludes his letter “I’m hopeful that in time, someone will crack the code on a business that can support exceptional neighborhood storytelling for I believe telling those stories remains essential.” It’s a rather trite ending – a man worth $2.1 billion bemoaning the costs of running newspapers.

If it sounds like something doesn’t quite add up, there’s a small additional matter: the decision came a week after staff at the New York offices of DNAInfo and the Gothamist voted to unionise. Ricketts letter assiduously avoided reflecting on that vote, but a widely linked to blog of his reveals no love for the idea of collective labour: it ends with the line”It is my observation that unions exert efforts that tend to destroy the Free Enterprise system.”

There is nothing illegal in Joe Ricketts’ actions – as CEO and owner, he had the complete right to pull the rug out from under the feet of over a hundred journalists. But they are spectacularly concerning. If we give him the considerable benefit of the doubt and chalk it all down to business, it seems inconceivable that papers started after the Great Recession and competing in a crowded digital environment could offer considerable returns on investment. Even the New York Times, which has had the advantage of a long standing reputation and of being one of Trump’s favourite punching bags, has only just begun to make some inroads towards growth, after a period of painful layoffs and a massive pivot towards the digital. It’s also hard to see Ricketts – clearly a man versed in business – would somehow imagine that the DNAInfo network would magically start printing money.

All of which suggests the other, even less palatable alternative: that the billionaire funders of journalism care less about editorial integrity than they do about control. Granted, this was not the voice of the purse dictating how tales should be told, but shutting down papers ostensibly because of unionisation is the next worst thing. At a time when good local reporting is neither lucrative nor readily in demand, this is particularly sad.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen billionaires using the sheer weight of dollars to push papers out of business – think Peter Thiel and Gawker. And what precedent does it set for other news sites, like the Washington Post, who are reliant upon a megadonor for their continued existence? The common assumption is that Jeff Bezos is unlikely to engage in similar chicanery; given that not even the staff at DNAInfo seemed to pre-empt Ricketts’ move, such an assumption doesn’t feel so safe any more.

The media barons used to buy papers because they made money as much as they offered the power of persuasion. Today, the first motivation has evaporated, and is unlikely to return in the near future. That seems to mean that dissent is even less likely to be tolerated.

What does Siloed Social Media mean for Politics?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The old adage for dealing with dealing with online abuse was ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ – a statement based on the premise that they could fundamentally dealt with like offline bullies. By refusing to give them the emotional response and the attention which they crave, the argument went, they would get bored and move off (presumably to bother someone else).

But what does refusing to feed them actually look like, on a platform like Twitter – a space in which it’s easy for celebrities and micro-celebrities to weaponise their fame, turning their followers in far larger numbers and with far greater vehemence than in an offline setting? One answer is to block them, although given that it’s easy enough to make a new account and the sheer volume of the attacks , this can be impractical. Another is to put your account as private – or to go even further and quit it outright.

This was the understandable option taken by the targets of Gamergate, the organised campaign which ostensibly fought for ‘ethics in video game journalism’, but which always looked curiously like a reactionary pushback against criticisms of gaming’s often misogynist culture. Later, actress Leslie Jones would be forced to leave Twitter facing down a mob of a similar sort, targeting her for her ethnicity.

More so than getting an emotional response, this has been the goal of the leaders of the harassment campaigns, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart employee who was finally permanently removed from Twitter following the campaign against Jones. He wouldn’t be the only ‘martyr’ in the eyes of self-proclaimed freedom fighters. In the wake of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, rumours began circulation on Twitter about child pornography being hosted by the site by a series of accounts (including current alt-right celebrity, Brittany Pettibone). Having already removed a number of far-right accounts after Trump’s surprise victory, Twitter hastily swung into action, apparently partially to protect its own reputation.

It wouldn’t be the only platform to do so: even Reddit, famously defiant in the face of protests against the mixture of hate speech and borderline felonies on some of its threads, has banned a number (including the once popular r/AltRight). And as would later happen with Twitter, users quickly discovered alternative platforms, whose professed love of freedom went deeper. For Reddit there was Voat, which became central to the Pizzagate ‘investigation’, whilst Twitter got Gab (which also offers an opportunity for recording videos for audiences).

On the one hand, the decision for proponents of particularly loathsome ideologies to migrate from the mainstream space is welcome. A study on Reddit’s work shutting down some of the most controversial and repugnant subreddits suggested that rather than spreading the hate around other threads, most of those displaced tended to pipe down without the community support. Of course, it doesn’t take into account those who moved to platforms like Voat, which have tended to be less open to research from the mainstream establishment.

On the other hand, the practice of banning speech is a plaster for broader societal issues – and not a terribly sticky one in the long term. Although protecting users from campaigns of harassment is common decency (not to mention good business sense), pushing those already heading down dark paths to spaces like Voat seems likely to make their beliefs even more radical. A campaign based around punitive action also plays into their rhetoric of an establishment trying to attack them for violating free speech (gleefully ignoring those who have been forced to leave the arena of free speech out of fear).

The crisis of free speech, although so often imagined as a problem brought on by university safe spaces and ‘snowflake’ culture, is as much – if not more so – the result of a particular strain of conservatism mixed with what Adrienne Massanari dubbed a “toxic technoculture”. The result is a persecution complex which sees any debate as part of a broad attempt to stifle free speech, and a willingness to use whatever tactics necessary to attack opponents (see: fake antifa posters).

There is no easy solution to the problem which we face today – one which looks set to widen as the ‘culture wars’ continue. Forcing those with vile opinions onto alternative spaces no longer looks like the solution, as it simply intensifies their feelings of being stiffed. Allowing them to engage in wanton acts of harassment isn’t either, though: it’s time for tech to take a good look at itself and figure out the third way.

Explainer: The British Far-Right

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The murder of Jo Cox in the run-up to Brexit was shocking not merely for the fact that it was the first killing of a British MP in over 20 years. The words her killer, Thomas Mair, shouted – “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” – marked a return of British white supremacy which had last had its heyday in the 1990s.

Whilst more electorally focussed versions of white nationalism have persisted and gained support over the past decade – most notably in the brief surge of support the British National Party (BNP) received under Nick Griffin – the last decade of the 20th century had marked a high-point in the indigenous white nationalist movement (as opposed to US or European imported groups). Neo-Nazi groups centred in the UK included Combat 18 (the number standing for the letters ‘AH’, Hitler’s initials) and Blood & Honour, which hosted the formerly flourishing white nationalist music scene. For groups like these, which had evolved from post-WWII fascists and disillusioned imperialists with ill-disguised antipathy for immigrants from former colonies, the high point of their publicity came in April 1999 – courtesy of a 22 year old called David Copeland.

A former BNP member, Copeland had read ‘The Turner Diaries’, William Luther Pierce’s dystopian novel and handy manifesto for the budding fascist. In 1995 it had made the headlines in America when Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, was discovered with pages from the novel (which describes an attack on an FBI building) – a screed which called for radical warfare against the state. Copeland turned to explosives himself, but he targeted another typical fascist target – non-white Britons, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. His attacks killed three and wounded another 140.

It’s probably unfair to call Copeland’s attack the catalyst for the failure of the British far-right scene – the deaths of key members of groups like Combat 18 through factional infighting also played a role. At any rate, the early 21st century saw the apparent transition of the old street fighting outfits to electoral politics.

Mair’s actions shattered this illusion, especially as his words were rapidly coopted by a previously little known group, National Action. With its roots in Yorkshire (which has traditionally played host to the BNP and other far-right outfits), the group had only been founded in 2013 – but it nevertheless is the only far-right group proscribed in Britain. The status has conferred upon it a great deal of respect in white supremacist forums, seeming validation of the state control which Pierce’s Turner Diaries ‘predicted’ – not bad going, considering attempts in 2015 to organise a rally in Liverpool ended with National Action members hiding behind the shutters of a shop at Liverpool Lime Street Station.

In styling, National Action offers a blend of the peculiarly British and the distinctly transnational – a technique borrowed from the broader alt-right. Where older iterations of the website from 2013 show a particular approach which mimicked the National Front, focusing on immigrants, the group has increasingly opted for a broader symbolism. One of the most recent examples of its home page featured Anglo-Saxon imagery alongside the broader, pseudo-academic ideology which has been popularised by Richard Spencer and others in America – and which is increasingly developing in continental Europe and Britain.

How the Echo Chamber won Trump his presidency

Reading Time: 4 minutes

American Likes 1

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” pretty much sums up 2016 in a single sentence. Today’s result in the American Presidential Election came as a shock to many, partly because all the data pointed to the contrary right up until the day itself. It seems we are still a long way from understanding the contextual nature of mining big data for information, and this problem extends itself into how we are becoming heavily reliant on similar systems controlling how we consume information.

Nowadays we use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to gain information, ingest content and read the news. We often see what we like and like what we see, resulting in biased social feeds because of this echo chamber. Most of us have realised how biased our news feed is which is down to how we use them, but recent political events such as Brexit and the US election have shown us the extent of just how much this is the case.

We unknowingly accept the echo chamber we’re placed in because we are fed information we like and agree with our own opinion.

In many cases, users don’t even realise that they consume one-sided, or similar information because of the social circles around them. This entire phenomenon can be chalked up to “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and users end up only reading regurgitated information. As a consequence, we unknowingly accept the echo chamber we’re placed in because we are fed information we like and agree with our own opinion. It’s then reinforced because people in the same social sphere agree with us too. So the echo chambers’ cycle remains because it gives us a false sense of affirmation that we are right in our beliefs – also known as a confirmation bias.

How likes divided a nation

The 2016 U.S. Election coverage is a perfect example. The Wall Street Journal recently put together this graphic which depicts how feeds may differ to Facebook users based on their political views: http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/

In the graphic, you can see Liberal and Conservative Facebook feeds side by side and how much they differ. After all, your feed is designed to prioritise content based on what you’ve liked, clicked and shared in the past. This means that conservatives don’t see much content from liberal sources and vice versa.

This particular presidential campaign has been fought on an entirely different content battleground than others, with a new army generating that content at high speed; with low value but an extremely high impact judging from today’s outcome. According to an article in Wired, one in every five election-related tweets from September 16 to October 21 was generated by a bot. These bots automatically generated content that met the criteria of the political agenda.  Because of the deluge of tweets, they triggered and shaped online discussions around the presidential race, including trending topics and how online activity surrounding the election debates were judged. The problem stems in a shift from an Information Economy to an Attention Economy, where he or she who makes the most noise, wins. Unfortunately, noise does not equal signal but you can’t tell them apart when a bot or algorithm is involved.

The perfect example of this was the revelation that over 100 pro-Trump websites were in fact, being run out of a small town in Macedonia. Posts weren’t being generated by bots but by a small group of teenagers making money from click bait articles which were mostly false and misleading. The most successful post, according to Buzzfeed when they investigated the issue was based on a story from a fake news website, was the headline on the story from ConservativeState.com which read “Hillary Clinton In 2013: ‘I Would Like To See People Like Donald Trump Run For Office; They’re Honest And Can’t Be Bought.’” The post was a week old and had racked up an astounding 480,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. Those numbers are astounding and prove that attention means more than information.

Breaking the cycle

Bots and algorithms don’t seek out opposing views or surface them for readers because they’re not built that way. They serve us what we want to hear. It’s the same when we’re served news written by human hands specifically for our tastes. We become trapped in a filter bubble wrapped around an echo chamber (or should that be an echo chamber wrapped around by a filter bubble?!).

Bots and algorithms…serve us what we want to hear

The way to break free from this is to start understanding how algorithms work, why content screaming for attention can no longer be trusted as relevant, and to surround ourselves with different viewpoints. The ultimate goal is balance and only this way can you find a new perspective, different content, and learn what you don’t yet know.

We should be more selective in the content we consume. Instead of the algorithm doing the filtering first, we should manually look to filter the news, media, and information ourselves in order for algorithms to gently nudge new information by suggesting opposing views that broaden our perspective.

The algorithm should be the one to challenge our point of view, not reinforce it.