The perversions that social media causes in thought.

Mark Zuckerberg has today said that he is going to solve the fake news stories that are constantly being shared on Facebook; this spread of misinformation is extremely damaging and counter-intuitive and provides a platform for people to become mob-like and validate opinions with false fact. Something else which adds to this is the fact that sites such as Twitter and Facebook become an echo chamber of opinion. Why they do this has to firstly be explained by their revenue models.

Facebook and Twitter rely on advertising revenue to turn a profit, whether this is done by promoted tweets or  by creating campaigns which direct users to a specific post. This requires engagement and impressions (per 1000 impressions, the advertiser pays Twitter or Facebook) which are targeted towards specific demographics and location. We (the broker I worked at) used to run trading adverts directed towards men between the ages of 21 and 70 as this was the primary demographic for a retail trader. However, Twitter and Facebook also go a step further. They use computer programming to understand what you discuss the most, what your political leanings are and what your core follower base also tweets about. 

If their advertising efforts are based on engagement and keeping you on the site as much as possible, then the content you consume must be the hook. Facebook and Twitter are able to push content with specific ideologies (such as supporting Hillary or Trump during the 2 year campaign) and also push ‘who you may follow’ users with similar ideologies. This becomes a problem for several reasons.

Firstly, you start to feel that your social media is an accurate reflection of the outside world. For example, there is no coincidence that many on social media were shocked that Trump won the US election and that the UK voted out in the EU Referendum. You can see the stats for Twitter demographics here:

36% of 18-29 year olds use Twitter. That is 56% more than the next largest age demographic which is 30-49 year olds. The amount of users in older demographics slips heavily for Twitter.

Contrast this with Facebook and you have a more ‘balanced’ age demographic:

Facebook tends to be a more conservative medium of opinion sharing because it is far less anonymous, whereas Twitter allows very quick interaction with topics and people from around the world. Twitter is far less personal as a social medium than Facebook which, on top of the character limit, allows people to be more outrageous and impactful, irrespective of the next point.

In general, youth voters are far more left leaning than older citizens. If you combine this with the above stats, you will end up having a greater proportion of Twitter users being more left leaning than right. This means that the same opinions on Twitter will be echoed. Add to the fact that you generally follow people that you like the tweets of, you end up only listening and seeing the opinions that you want to hear and see. Referring back to the initial point, Twitter therefore creates a self serving revenue generator, where agreeable content drives revenue.

This can develop a representation heuristic, something which was studied heavily by Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in Economics for their work in the field (the paper on heuristics and biases can be found here and their Nobel Peace Prize winning work, here). When people rely on representativeness to make judgments, they are likely to judge wrongly because the fact that something is more representative does not actually make it more likely. So when people’s followers and media sites were pointing to a Hillary win or a UK remain, this provided assurances and validity to the respective voters’ ideologies and provided confidence. But the demographic skewdness provides this bias.

If you really want to look at something statistically astounding, check out Bayes’ Theorem in relation to breast cancer detection.

These opinionated echo chambers also reflect another bias, with the help of Twitter’s content algorithms, known as a confirmation bias. This means that when you hold a specific view, you seek out news or statistics to prove your view. There was a debate going the other day about how we don’t know if the world is flat or not. I provided evidence for the reflection of the Earth on the moon’s surface being round during a lunar eclipse, that there is a curvature of the Earth when looking at a ship on the horizon, that we have mapped the Earth from planes outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, even that James May from Top Gear had done it:

Even though this refuted the bias, the person came back with a made up law that the US had banned exploration of the North and South Poles because they’d find out we had a flat Earth… right.

Anyway, the point is that biases affect our day to day lives. Twitter is essentially forcing a bias onto each and every one of us, whether you are politically left or politically right, an SJW or non-SJW, Arsenal fan or Liverpool fan and it’s very clever, since it is a self serving revenue generator as I said.

However, it is also very toxic. It alienates groups very easily, and allows people to believe their own bullshit since it is constantly validated by those who share the same beliefs. Especially among the SJWs. They can just go away with their constant triggerisms.


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