Facebook is bad for everybody / Changing minds

Published December 13, 2017 by justicewg

I try to keep my commentary on this blog focused on local Grandview issues, but occasionally I read or see something that makes me say, “Yes, this person is absolutely right, we all need to pay attention”. I will get back to the local after a while, but first some thoughts on this TED talk about social media, and Facebook in particular. Later, I discuss a good website on changing minds.

We’re building a dystopia

That is a bit of a clickbait headline, isn’t it? Sure, but this TED talk backs it up with careful reasoning and reference to studies of how behavior changes because of online ads and social media groups.

There has been a few headline news stories that have told us how we are becoming a nation that is sharply divided, not just because of ideological differences, but because of the perception of reality. We want to read stories that reinforce our own world view, and discount those that don’t fit – cognitive dissonance has been studied for many years, we know how the mind can bend perception to fit our view of how “things should be”. Now we have Facebook to reinforce those perceptions, feeding us a computer generated stream of news and commentary that intentionally pushes us into more extreme views on politics and society.

It has gotten so bad that even one of the founders of social media admits that Facebook is tearing the social fabric apart (jump to 21:30). He suggests the best solution is to stop using Facebook, but if that is not possible, at least understand how it works to suck you in and make you angry.

Local Facebook groups

The most popular local Facebook group is call Grandview Heights (Ohio) U*S*A. It is moderated by city council member Steve Reynolds, along with some helpers. For now, I would say the group is a positive place that weeds out the bad stuff that fills most other Facebook groups.

I don’t know how long this group can last – the whole idea that an elected council member can run a group that is seen as influential in the community, and also moderate and blocks posts from some members of the community, seems like it is asking for a lawsuit. I’m afraid someone will get blocked and decide that this is a council member who is restricting his free speech rights, and he might get a judge to agree. At that point, Reynolds will have to shut down the group. I don’t think it will be replaced by anything as good.

How I try to do it right

To answer the obvious question “you are part of social media, how can you claim to be any better?”, go back to the video in the first paragraph (because I know most of you skipped it) and pull out the core of the complaint. Tufekci says that it is the digital data bases used by large companies that are being used to flash short bits of manipulative click bait, carefully created to inspire anger and outrage, something that will make you click links, follow, and share with your friends. You don’t get those responses from watching people who carefully study social issues, and try to explain all sides. You want to hear people who are screaming mad – sometimes because of the same urge to watch a car wreck on the side of the road, but after you have digested enough of the inflammatory material, you will start agreeing with the people on the most radical sides of the issues.

I don’t go for the quick hit in my posts on my blog, I tend to go with long form essays with a lot of backup material. I’m probably losing a lot of viewers who want the quick hits of outrage. I’m also just a single person with one blog, so I don’t have task forces or blue ribbon committees to work out public relation strategies. It’s just me.

Learn how you are being persuaded (and manipulated)

As part of my search for information on the techniques that Facebook uses to draw you into the chaos, I found a website called Changing Minds. It looks old fashioned, but is chock full of good information on how people change other peoples minds – and how to recognize when you are being manipulated. The author is not pushing any political viewpoint, just education on how the process of influence works.

This page on Principals is central to the website, you should already know how most of these techniques of persuasion work, but it is a good refresher to identify the name of the game that is being tried on you.

This is a quote from the website that I think best fits the issues we are dealing with from the Grandview Heights school board.

Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate, and if you persist in taking advantage of other people, you are taking your happiness in your own hands. Even the meekest of people can turn really nasty if they feel they have been tricked or betrayed. The bottom line: we reap what we sow.

The people who founded the “Good for Grandview” group were not the radicals, or the outspoken members of the community. They were some of the meekest people, the ones that sat in the front row and tried to see the good in the facility review process. The fact that they were driven to stand up and create an opposition group speaks to the bad faith manipulation used by the board. There is no “wait it out and they will go away” possibility for the board, either they start admitting mistakes, and changing their ways, or they will be igniting a war they will lose, and as a side effect, polarize the community into fights with neighbor against neighbor.

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