New Research Shows Social Media Doesn't Turn People Into Assholes (They Already Were), And Everyone's Wrong About Echo Chambers

from the seems-notable dept

We recently wrote about Joe Bernstein’s excellent Harper’s cover story, which argues that we’re all looking at disinformation/misinformation the wrong way, and that the evidence of disinformation on social media really influencing people is greatly lacking. Instead, as Bernstein notes, this idea is one that many others are heavily invested in spreading, including Facebook (if the disinfo story is true, then you should buy ads on Facebook to influence people in other ways), the traditional media (social media is a competitor), and certain institutions with a history of having authority over “truth” (can’t let the riffraff make up their own minds on things).

We’ve also seen other evidence pop up questioning the supposed malicious impact of social media. Yochai Benkler’s work has shown that Fox News has way more of an impact on spreading false information than social media does.

And even with all this evidence regarding disinformation, there are also people who focus on attitude, and insist that social media is responsible for otherwise good people turning awful. Yet, as was covered in an fascinating On the Media interview with Professor Michael Bang Petersen, there really isn’t much evidence to support that either! As Petersen explained in a useful Twitter thread, his research has shown that there’s no real evidence to support the idea that social media turns people hostile. Instead, it shows that people who are assholes offline are also assholes online.

But in the interview, Petersen makes a really fascinating point regarding echo chambers. I’ve been skeptical about idea of online echo chambers in the past, but Petersen says that people really have it all backwards — and that we’re actually much more likely to live in echo chambers offline than online, and we’re much more likely to come across different viewpoints online.

One way to think about social media in this particular regard is to turn all of our notions about social media upside down. And here I’m thinking about the notion of ‘echo chambers.’ So we’ve been talking a lot about echo chambers and how social media creates echo chambers. But, in reality, the biggest echo chamber that we all live in is the one that we live in in our everyday lives.

I’m a university professor. I’m not really exposed to any person who has a radically different world view or radically different life from me in my everyday life. But when I’m online, I can see all sorts of opinions that I may disagree with. And that might trigger me if I’m a hostile person and encourage me to reach out to tell these people that I think they are wrong.

But that’s because social media essentially breaks down the echo chambers. I can see the views of other people — what they are saying behind my back. That’s where a lot of the felt hostility of social media comes from. Not because they make us behave differently, but because they are exposing us to a lot of things that we’re not exposed in our everyday lives.

And then this upside down view of echo chambers also explains why people feel like the internet is a more hostile place full of assholes and trolls. It’s more that it’s because we’re now being exposed to these points of view and can respond. As he notes, this kind of hostility actually happens all the time, but it’s usually just not witnessed by more than a couple people at a time. Now, online, it’s witnessed by a much larger audience, and so we overcorrect and think that it’s making people worse.

In our offline lives, there is a lot of hostility as well, but that happens behind closed doors, in private. It happens in bars where we cannot hear what is going on. But we’re exposed to all that when we enter the online realm.

Another interesting tidbit in the interview (and in his Twitter thread) is the idea that people who tend to share misinformation often know that it’s misinformation, but they don’t care because they’re just so focused on pissing off the people they don’t like (see: “owning the libs”) that they don’t care. It’s more important to anger the “other side” than to share legit info. This was based on a detailed study they did of people on Twitter.

The people who are sharing misinformation are not ignorant. They are used to navigating social media and the internet. They know more about politics than the average person. But where they’re really different from the average is they have much more negative feelings towards members of the other party. And that’s really what’s predicting, not only their sharing of fake news, but also their sharing of real news. They want to derogate people that they don’t like, and they are actively searching for information that they can use for that purpose.

So it’s not that social media turns people into assholes, nor does it put them into echo chambers where their minds are turned to mush by disinformation. The evidence suggests that some people — who were already predisposed to such kinds of “us/them” bickering, just jump right into the fray online as a kind of status thing to anger the people they don’t like. Because those people can actually hear them now.

Later, he notes that it’s not that they’re purposefully sharing misinformation — it’s just that whether or not something is true or false is “not part of the calculus.” All that matters is basically “will this trigger people I dislike.”

And then the interview brings us back around to a similar issue that we noted with Yochai Benkler’s research about the problems of Fox News. Petersen notes that his research has shown that Republicans tend to share somewhat more misinformation than Democrats, but it’s not because (as some people believe) the relative education levels, but rather that the media ecosystem set up for Republicans (i.e., Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, etc.) is much more designed to feed them the kinds of news that they want to share for this very purpose — the “own the libs” kind of stories. Though, as he then notes, the fact that these kinds of news sources exist and feed into this is (like the social media panic) more of a symptom, rather than the real problem.

His conclusion?

Misinformation is not, in itself, a big problem. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s a symptom of a much worse problem. And here we come back to the polarization in society, because that is what’s driving the sharing of misinformation. I think we’ve been focusing a lot on the symptoms — Fox News, Trump, Facebook — but I think that there is some evidence that suggests that rising inequality over the last decade has been a fundamental driver of political instability in the US and beyond. It’s a problem in many Western Democracies. That’s where I would start to look for solutions.

All of this is quite fascinating — and backed up by his research. And, it does get back to the point that some of us have been making for years. That social media isn’t so much “the problem” as it is a mirror that reflects the kinds of societal problems that civilization has been dealing with for centuries. It’s just that now it plays out in a way where more people can see it all happen.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: facebook

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “New Research Shows Social Media Doesn't Turn People Into Assholes (They Already Were), And Everyone's Wrong About Echo Chambers”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
50 Comments
Greg says:

Re: Yes, sort-of?

Sort of…? The issue he outlined was that polarization drives an in-group/out-group social dynamic… People will be asshole in the bar or on facebook… but we see it publicly entombed in digital facebook stone. So social media itself is not the issue (if I’m understanding him correctly), it just allows us all to view the anger inherent in our current social dynamic.

Under this framework, social anger towards others is the issue. The toxic social media environment we all know and hate is consequence, not an antecedent.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Yes, sort-of?

"social media is not the problem because it turns people into assholes, it is just the problem that social media exposes assholes to each other, and allows them to respond to assholes they don’t like or agree with?"

As "Greg" pointed out, it’s more a question of time-shifting. If you’re just a bit of an asshole but normally restrain yourself in civilized company casual acquaintances and strangers won’t ever notice anything wrong. People spending a lot of time with you will see what emerges when you drop your mask is all.

Online that drunken and/or irate rant you felt compelled to bring to the table isn’t just going to be a few shocked faces around the bar table late on a saturday night. It will remain in perpetuity and albeit no one at your table might feel compelled to tear you a new one out of social restraint the metaphorical person at the other end of the bar, similarly riled, surely will. And online, unlike in the metaphor of a pub with physical distance preventing them from hearing you, they will see everything you said and possibly react in similar affect.

Social media just makes visible what was always there.

"Oh! Well I feel better now."

Right? Nothing like the revelation that by and large a lot of people are, at heart, horrible cunts, to make a person feel the cheer and joy. /s

Kent says:

Re: Re: Yes, sort-of?

The point that I was trying to make (tongue in cheek), but didn’t articulate very well, is that whether people are innate assholes and social media just gives us a medium/window in which to view that behavior, or whether it is social media itself turning normally civil people into assholes, the outcome from my point of view is the same. I understand that division and polarization have been around a lot longer than Facebook et al, but there is no doubt in my mind that social media is not doing anything to improve that division, and is indeed doing a great deal (intentionally, it appears) to amplify the angriest voices. From my perspective social media is assholes all the way down. The research is interesting, but I must have missed the part about it getting us closer to a more civil social media landscape, let alone a more civil world.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yes, sort-of?

The research is interesting, but I must have missed the part about it getting us closer to a more civil social media landscape, let alone a more civil world.

It shows us (if correct) that social media is not the problem. Thus, focusing attention on fixing the flaws in social media will not ultimately fix the problem of terrible people. The first step to solving a problem is understanding what it is – and what it is not.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yes, sort-of?

"…the outcome from my point of view is the same."

I’d have to differ there. There’s a massive amount of difference whether social media evokes assholery or just makes visible what was always there.

In one of those cases we can go to Facebook and ask them to moderate harder. In the other case we need to realize that as a society we are missing something if so many people grow up to be nothing but sacks of irrational bile and malice.

"…there is no doubt in my mind that social media is not doing anything to improve that division, and is indeed doing a great deal (intentionally, it appears) to amplify the angriest voices."

Social "media" may or may not be doing anything to amplify anger – but the outcome of having likeminded gather more easily and communicate certainly does potentiate it. It’s the old saying about how there’s no problem living in an area with scattered assholes about but the very second those assholes join up it’s time to call in the police because what you have is a gang – a newly formed tribe – motivated by nothing more than making other people miserable for the shitz’n’giggles.

"…From my perspective social media is assholes all the way down."

You must be hanging in a very particular set of platforms then. Case in point; This forum, right here? It’s social media. mainly populated with often opinionated thinkers commenting on social change and technology – but what is immediately visible won’t be That One Guy or PaulIT or Samuel Abrams. It’ll be a bunch of comments flagged into "hidden" made by one of the few trolls shitting broken logic all over the page as if their lives depended on it.

It’s not assholes all the way down. There’s usually one to three assholes who try to take up as much space as they can with irrelevant and malicious garbage because trying to look down on other people and scream in hysterics is all they’ve got in life.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Yes, sort-of?

"Social "media" may or may not be doing anything to amplify anger – but the outcome of having likeminded gather more easily and communicate certainly does potentiate it"

Then, of course, there’s the flipside to this – which is this sort of thing does not only have an effect on assholes. There’s plenty of disaffected and isolated communities for whom the rise of the internet and social media have made aware that they’re not in fact alone in the world. It could be argued that certain types of social progress we’ve seen recently, for example with relationship to LGBT right, has been partially down to the ease with which members of those communities have been able to gather and communicate with those outside their group despite their isolation physically. Of course, so have the homophobes…

Josh says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Yes, sort-of?

"I’d have to differ there. There’s a massive amount of difference whether social media evokes assholery or just makes visible what was always there."

Hit the nail right on the head. It’s the moderation. Why did we get something warm and positive in our news feeds in the early days of Facebook and now we can all this horrible negative stuff?

And not just negative but consistently negative without anything positive — Very suspicious anomaly. I wouldn’t put very much stock in these social science papers lately considering how much they’ve been screwing up too ( The scientific papers hoax — academics sending false papers to see if they could get published despite papers should have been turned down in the peer review process )

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yes, sort-of?

"From my perspective social media is assholes all the way down"

From my perspective it’s a bunch of people with clam rational debate on subjects I’m interested in and friends and family I have from real life giving me insight into what interests me in their daily lives that I wouldn’t have had access to in the days before it.

But, i am very choosy about who I follow on social media and I’m not scared to block or mute people who annoy me, or avoid groups that tend toward that kind of behaviour. That’s the interesting thing about social media – everybody has a different experience on it, and if you’re exposed to a lot of assholes on there, then there might be a reason for that which you need to address yourself.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"there is some evidence that suggests that rising inequality over the last decade has been a fundamental driver of political instability in the US and beyond. It’s a problem in many Western Democracies. That’s where I would start to look for solutions."

And our entrenched "leaders" like it this way.
They warn those who aren’t hurting that much, that those much worse off are coming to take from them. That if they are allowed to move upwards it will be at the cost of others, and we can’t allow that.

Society has maskholes saying that mandates are the devil for the vaccine, because the government shouldn’t be involved in making a medical choice for people… while standing outside an abortion clinic demanding abortion be outlawed completely.

People are more focused on non-issues they think matter, while ignoring the huge gulf in inequality at every level. They cling to what they have like its pie, that if someone gets more it takes a piece from them. How else can you explain people making $50K a year being upset that we might tax people making $500K a year $3 more, it would benefit everyone but they’ve been warned that their pie will be sliced and given away to those beneath them ignoring that billionaires paying the same rate as the rest of us would make things better for everyone without having to take away from them.

The bakery doesn’t have to make a gay cake, but they don’t have the right to refuse me service if I won’t wear a mask.
Doublethink… its been here.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I for one am looking forward to embracing Darwinism & just allowing those who wish to self remove that honor as long as they don’t take others with them.
Drink your bleach, deworm your colon, snort your lysol…
Own the libs!!

This will leave the upper level of toadies intact who do not practice what the cult leader preaches & they parrot the same sermons and eventually when the flock is gone its really really hard to stay in power.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"This will leave the upper level of toadies intact who do not practice what the cult leader preaches & they parrot the same sermons and eventually when the flock is gone…"

Unfortunately not…the base of gormless fuckwits keeping these clowns in power will be largely untouched, because even if a few million of them die or are struck with long haul covid that just means they’ll be miserable…and the demagogue of their choice will be all too eager to tell them that misery all stems from the liberal cannibal junta and jewish space lasers.

Anonymous Coward says:

I feel some of the conclusions are incorrect from thr provided data. Exposed to other ideas doesn’t matter if you have an echo chamber to return to because you arent engaging with others ideas. Thats like saying someone in a city is more exposed to ideas than someone who lives in the middle of nowhere. Sure, but both still can have groups they trust which reinforce their views and everyone else is wrong. One look at the r/republican reddit should tell you that all by itself.

Also the idea misinformation isnt a problem.. The number of people who actively legitimately believe some of these things shows that is wrong. Intelligent or politically active doesn’t mean the person doesn’t have stupid ideas. Own the libs being a literal platform is a thing, but if you think they dont actually believe that shit you aren’t looking at the data with how people have engaged with fake media.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The conclusion that misinformation must be behind the views is itself mistaken. What makes nonsense catch on isn’t that it is convincing to absolute idiots – if that was the case correction wouldn’t be an uphill battle. No, what makes the misinformation believed isn’t deception but /it says what they want to believe/. I don’t know how many times you see people unironically citing fictional movies as proof. Idiocracy and Elysium were the kings of this Dunning-Krueger affair as the first is used to say anything they don’t like is considered a sign of decline, the second as "proof" rich people are actively out to kill them all.

Nobody believes that those were literal works of truth but it fits into their worldview well enough emotionally that they don’t care about the truth.

Trying to fix that problem by fact checking alone to keep out misinformation is doomed to failure. Obama’s birth certificate should have been proof enough – bigots fundamentally couldn’t accept him as American when his father was born in Africa despite one-parent birth citizenship being the norm, and the mother being the undeniable party.

The whole misinformation as the root of all evil, the is itself example of an emotionally fixed belief with motivated. It wasn’t like this in "the old days" with gatekeepers is the subtext and at times outright text – one which ignores reality never fits into their convenient little pictures of how the world works.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"What makes nonsense catch on isn’t that it is convincing to absolute idiots – if that was the case correction wouldn’t be an uphill battle."

This, right there. The 70-90 million americans who believe the election was rigged, that Obama was the harbinger of the apocalypse, that Hillary eats babies and wears their skin as masks in satanistic rituals, that jews and black people are in on a global conspiracy to make themselves look victimized rather than that poor white majority not being allowed to use the "N-word" in public anymore…

That’s not a case of being misinformed. It’s not a case of being ignorant. It’s a case of massive numbers of people wanting to believe, with all their heart, that certain people are to be hated and look down, over skin color or creed…and they’ll grasp at any argument that can be cobbled together just to justify that end belief.

You can’t tell them they’re wrong. You can’t make them understand. Not until you get them to stop hating the other – whether that’s liberals, people of color, women, muslims, or jews.

That’s why reason and rationality doesn’t work on these malicious fuckwits. Why they’re happy to get screwed themselves as long as it means they can spite the people they hate. Why they’re such perfect tools for any shameless republican grifter who just needs to every now and then needs to drop them some red meat in the form of a nonsensical and dangerous bill usually doomed to fail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It wasn’t like this in "the old days" with gatekeepers is the subtext…

Except for stories like:

Anti-vaccine school in Florida tells kids to stay home if they get a COVID shot

and

Texas school administrator tells teachers to provide "opposing perspective" to books about the Holocaust

Where politicians are driving the misinformation through the gate keepers of knowledge..

Upstream (profile) says:

rising inequality over the last decade has been a fundamental driver of political instability in the US and beyond

Somewhere I read that 40 or 50 or so years ago the top X% of the US population (I don’t remember the numbers exactly) made about 39 times what the bottom X% made. Now it is over 900 times as much.

Here is a short (6+ min) video that illustrates this same idea a bit differently: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM

Yeah, I think this is a serious problem. It has recurred many times throughout history, and the end result has never been pretty.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Another stat for you – if US minimum wage had kept up with inflation it would be around $24/hour now. But, it’s not and people are fighting against $15/hour proposals as if that was excessive. Furthermore, what a lot of people opposed to the minimum wage increase are fighting against is not the inequality or stagnation, it’s the idea that someone working in McDonalds could be earning what they currently earn.

That’s one metric and some of it is certainly anecdotal, but it suggests that people have been convinced to look in the wrong places for their problems. Oh, and another fact some people might like to look into is the amount of tax that the top 1% used to pay, because that has changed a lot in a different direction.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
John Paul Sartre says:

All that matters is basically "will this trigger people I dislike."

All this has happened before, and all this will happen again:

“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre
Anti‐Semite and Jew [1944]

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I wish there was more than one "insightful" flag to click for this.

Yeah, what we keep seeing isn’t new. It’s old. Assholes on social media – primarily bigots and racists – aren’t ever interested in discourse or debate. They just welcome the opportunity to get a rational person to sit down with them in that persons mistaken belief there is an argument to be had.

This in a nutshell is the modern play of current republican vs current democrat in the US, where the normal brand of honest or shady politician attempt to use rationale and reason to persuade people who view the other side with amused contempt for letting them sit at the table in the first place.

You can’t debate bigots. You can only banish them from any place where civilized people gather and wait for the descendants of those bigots to realize the only way they’ll ever be welcome among most people is by ditching the dearly held belief that some minority is naturally a lesser form of people there only for their role as a scapegoat to blame for every ill.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Technically, it’s been an issue since the first group of Cro-Magnon decided to band up and hunt in a group."

I seem to recall some mention by anthropologists that some early tribes saw fit to isolate and kill or exile sociopathic motherfuckers whose behavior threatened the tribe as a whole.

I’m usually all for progress but looking at the 70-90 million americans currently subscribing to Dear Leader and the mythology of the Liberal Cannibal Cult, or endangering everyone where they live because they feel it’s their god-given right to endanger other people…I can’t help but think there are some methods from our distant past we might have been wiser not to rid ourselves of.

Popper’s paradox of tolerance doesn’t get enough airtime these days. If your society is supposed to be about tolerance then the intolerant have no place in it. And that we by default today provide a space for douchebags who would see other people harmed same as we do for people who’d see other people included is one of our more monumental whoppers as a species.

If the principle is that anyone should have access to food and water that doesn’t mean we need to also tolerate the moron who pisses in the water main and takes a dump in the communal soup pot.

Ninja says:

From what I’ve been experiencing on this front I’m inclined to agree with the findings but I do have a few things on my mind:

  1. I do think social platforms can do better to moderate more egregious fakes such as anti-vax, anti-mask and other established scientific facts. I mean, we are talking about century(ies)-old science, not bleeding edge stuff AND it’s usually a handful of profiles generating most of the problematic content (with bots that can be tracked helping spread). See Trump, they took ages to start taking action against his bullshit and it wasn’t that hard.
  2. Fox News is indeed a byproduct of wealth inequality. Of capitalism. It exists because there is a despicable insanely-rich idiot with power to steer the whole thing towards fake news without real consequences. As other dysfunctions capitalism provides, some regulation is needed. Unfortunately even if such regulation comes it will be poisoned by rich buying their will into law. Nothing we haven’t seen before.
  3. Inequality in general is the main driver behind a whole lot of the (possibly extinction-inducing) problems we are facing. From social unrest to environmental issues. Distribute the wealth more evenly be it in direct money transfer or by investing in good public services (mainly education and health) and you’ll have a more educated and less prone to this bs population in no time. Also, stop enshrining and deifying profit above all, specially when it directly affects basic needs such as food and you’ll start seeing a better world. Brazil is breaking record after record exporting grains (quantity), meat because the currency value shot through the roof (value) and yet almost half of the Brazilian population is suffering from some degree of hunger. This system is utterly broken.
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bobvious says:

Re: Re:

Distribute the wealth more evenly be it in direct money transfer or by investing in good public services (mainly education and health) and you’ll have a more educated and less prone to this bs population in no time. Which is precisely what those who have the entrenched power and wealth don’t want to happen. It’s much harder to lie to an educated populace.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

3 looks like classic motivated reasoning. "The problems will go away if you go with my unrelated pet project because I said so!"

It is a downright nonsequitor that giving people money would somehow improve the importance they give education. While there are those who are "latent students" who would educate if their fiscal situation was better it wouldn’t do so in itself. Not any more than giving a million dollars to your high school aged slacker cousin would make him care more about his education.

Direct level of funding of services is peripheral to levels of equality – sure a good system of social services would reduce inequality over time by raising the base but the existence of a high end of wealth does not in itself cause poor social services. If aliens disintegrated Jeff Bezo, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet and similar big bad billionaires along with all of their fortunes at this we would see a sudden big drop in inequality metrics. We wouldn’t magically see improvement in education and healthcare. Some would certainly make fortunes in the resulting void but it wouldn’t enrich the economy any more than me smashing all of the mailboxes and windows in your neighborhood.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"It is a downright nonsequitor that giving people money would somehow improve the importance they give education."

Which is why you don’t provide money. You use it to provide important baseline services; Education, healthcare, transportation, communication.

And if higher education isn’t gated by affordability then more people will get one. I won’t say that europe doesn’t have anti-vaxxers and crackpot conspiracy nuts…but they are rarer by far than in the US where a full third of the population seems to have fully abandoned reason in favor of whatever dystopian fairytale is trending on Gab, Fox and Parler.

Ninja says:

Re: Re: Re:

It is a downright nonsequitor that giving people money would somehow improve the importance they give education.
There are studies on universal income showing that yes, it improves health and education of those receiving. There will always be those who will use it for alcohol and whatever idiotic excuse you come with of course. And I already anticipated your comment but I’ll quote it here: Distribute the wealth more evenly be it in direct money transfer or by investing in good public services (mainly education and health) and you’ll have a more educated and less prone to this bs population in no time.
If aliens disintegrated Jeff Bezo, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet and similar big bad billionaires along with all of their fortunes at this we would see a sudden big drop in inequality metrics.
However if their wealth was redistributed in the form of both direct transfer and investment in education, health, sanitation and other needs we would see a big drop. It’s painfully clear here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If aliens disintegrated Jeff Bezo, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet and similar big bad billionaires along with all of their fortunes at this we would see a sudden big drop in inequality metrics. We wouldn’t magically see improvement in education and healthcare. Some would certainly make fortunes in the resulting void but it wouldn’t enrich the economy any more than me smashing all of the mailboxes and windows in your neighborhood.

Ah, yes. The classic defense of "reducing CEO pay wouldn’t actually make any meaningful difference aside from maaaaaybe reducing inequality, whatever the hell that means, so let’s not change the status quo".

the existence of a high end of wealth does not in itself cause poor social services

And where do you think the money is going to come from to make those social services not poor anymore? It’s one thing to argue that the presence of uber-wealthy individuals by itself does not mean that social services have to suffer as a result. But if you want said services to not suffer any further, asking the people who are the targets of such social services to pay the price, which they are unlikely to be capable of affording, is a bit rich.

Bobvious says:

Some interesting research from the BBC

I get abuse and threats online – why can’t it be stopped? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58924168

Also, Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to work on metaverse https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-58949867 Some critics say this latest announcement is designed to re-establish the company’s reputation and divert attention, after a series of damaging scandals in recent months.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'No... no the problem must be anyone but me.'

That social media isn’t so much "the problem" as it is a mirror that reflects the kinds of societal problems that civilization has been dealing with for centuries. It’s just that now it plays out in a way where more people can see it all happen.

That’s certainly a part of it, another part would be that accepting that social media is simply reflecting what’s already there would requiring accepting that the problem is the people, not the platforms, and it’s much more comforting to shift the blame rather than accept that if social media is toxic it’s because the people using it are, and they were like that before social media.

bt says:

It’s an interesting set of findings, but it’s just a snapshot in time.

You can’t look at something like Fox News and conclude that the story they ran about "Fauci Helping To Make The China Virus To Kill Americans" didn’t change anyone’s basic belief systems. That’s not how it works.

You need to understand that an organization like Fox News does these types of stories day after day, year after year. THAT’s not easy to measure, but it’s like brainwashing when it’s done over time and with purpose.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is pretty much exactly 100% it. I agree completely.

That the assholes are the same in real life as on social media is a given. At most, social media lowers people’s restraint a bit, since there is no chance some other asshole is going to punch them in the face for talking shit.

And lot of the so-called discussion is obviously just trolling intended to provoke a reaction out of the Other Side. People don’t actually believe half the shit they put out. It’s all about pandering to "Us" and spiting "Them." As long as the narrative is "correct" for the side they’re on, reality is an afterthought. This occurs on both sides. And not just about politics, either.

But I actually hadn’t thought of social media companies’ zeal to "take responsibility" for censoring "dangerous" misinformation as an intentional ploy to make themselves appear more influential than they are. I had thought it just hollow performance to appease political pressure. But this makes total sense. They want the bullshit peddlers to appear influential, because it makes the platforms appear influential. That’s what they’re always after. The last thing they’d want is to admit people could see through the crap.

It also explains why they are so keen to keep doing it even though it doesn’t work and may even be counterproductive. Stopping misinformation was never the point for them.

Robin (user link) says:

The university of Amsterdam is more nuanced

Judith Möller has been doing research on this for years:
‘My theory is that filter bubbles do indeed exist, but that we’re looking for them in the wrong place.’

First of all, we need to differentiate between the so-called echo chamber and the filter bubble. As an individual, you voluntarily take your place in an echo chamber (such as in the form of a forum, or a Facebook or WhatsApp group), meaning you surround yourself with people who tend towards the same opinion as yourself. ‘Call it the modern form of compartmentalisation’, says communication scientist Judith Möller, who recently received a Veni grant for her research. ‘People have always had the tendency to surround themselves with like-minded people, and that’s no different on social media.’

More in the link.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »