Friday, June 22, 2012

The Internet is the Devil (bwahahahaha)

 I hate complaints about the internet. Specifically, I hate this. If you click this linky, you are redirected to the Cracked website, and one its more recent offerings called "5 Scientific Ways the Internet is Dividing Us". That got my attention immediately. 5! Scientific? Dividing.... ways?!? The headlines got a number, it's got the word science in it (as all reputable internet sources do, lol). What more could a girl want? So let's count the "5 Errors Made by the Article '5 Scientific Ways the Internet is Dividing Us'".

#5. Re: New Algorithms That Make Sure You Only Talk To People Who Agree With You: Reversal of the Direction of Causation
The basic point of #5 is simple: Facebook has created a new algorithm that filters your friends updates by placing posts from friends you agree with higher in your newsfeed. "Why missy", you might ask, "is Mark Zuckerberg some kind of wizard?" To which I would reply "possibly, but entirely beside the point." FB knows becuase it tracks the links you click on. Try not to fall onto the floor having a stroke out of the sheer shock of knowing that you clicks are tracked. As a result of this, you're losing the opportunity to encounter opposing viewpoints that you might otherwise have been exposed, in effect, closing yourself off from any info that could contradict what you already believe. This means, according to the article, that visiting FB is like entering a world populated by 'yes men', encouraging us to hold inaccurate views because we are denied access to differing points of view or people who might tell us we are wrong.

The Problem: I know, I know. I was floored too that someone accused Facebook of causing/exacerbating social ills, so take a moment to compose yourself and let the shock wear off. The problem with this is that it reverses the direction of causation. The algorithm only measures links you click on, and then puts similar links higher up on your newsfeed. If you weren't already consuming information that agreed with you, then the algorithm would never have moved that information to the top of your newsfeed. It is precisely because we spend so much time reading things that we agree with that FB pushes this content to the top. If we were reading a fair sampling of articles from both sides, then our newsfeed would reflect this too. Hence, this algorithm only reflects your reading behavior. FB might be an enabler, but that's a far cry from the kind of unseemly information segregation the article implies.

So Fb enables us? Isn't that bad? I don't think so. Last time I checked, FB was not your mommy and its role is not to force you to behave like a responsible adult. If you are a grown up, you should know that the responsible thing to do is to listen to both sides of an argument prior to forming an opinion or making a judgement. If you don't, well that's not FB's problem. It's yours.

And even in the worst case scenario, if everything the article said was actually an accurate portrayal of reality, then all you would have to do is scroll down to see these forbidden posts or- God forbid (or whatever)- visit your friend's page.
Yes, Raisin Face, you can- and that is only ONE of the many features of FB

But if you don't know how to work the 'down' on the mouse, or there are FB friends whose page you NEVER visit, then you have larger issues than an algorithm.

#4. Re: New Methods to Make Misinformation Spread Faster: But it Also Proportionately Increases the Speed by Which Such Misinformation Can Be Corrected by Accurate Information From Reputable Sources and #3 Re: User Submitted News Sights The Create Thought Bubbles

Alright- #4 is pretty simple too. The basic gist of it is that the internet, specifically sites like Digg and Reddit, democratize information and expedite the spread of misinformation and hoaxes. I happen to think this is true- with a caveat.

The Problem: The information expedites access to ALL sorts of information- the good and the bad.  Which means you might hear a hoax, an out-of-context quote, or an out and out lie faster, but you also have the means to fact check that material with equal ease- assuming you know how the search bar works. This is another instance where it's not the fault of the internet that it's users are lazy and nothing about Reddit makes it so that its users only vote for sensationalized, less-than-factual stories. These stories are represented and popularized because people already accept them as fact without any further thought. In addition, hoaxes and misinformation have gone hand-in-hand with every form of mass media that has ever existed. The internet is actually a vast improvement over oft-biased print articles. To check the accuracy of those one had to visit the library (assuming you were literate), which is considerably harder than using Google (or Bing).And again... if you are really SUPER confused about whether Bob's Wild World of Boobs is a legitimate source of information, than the problem is not the internet. The problem is that you're an idiot. In short, I'm not convinced that intelligent are being woefully misinformed because of the internet. I think intelligent people promote stories that are fun to read, and those are often sensational. I also think these same intelligent people know that they are not real- and the writer of the article has no info to the contrary. I also believe that stupid people believe stupid things- but that demographic has always had stupid beliefs.

#3 is a variation of the same theme and has the same problems. Attitude polarization and confirmation bias are human behavioral staples that long predated the internet, and would exist without any help from it. This aspect of internet use is merely a reflection of a preexisting human tendency.

#2- Re: Discussion Formats That Encourage Us To Be Negative

The claim here is that internet discussion forums are geared towards loud negative people. Since we are a culture that's short on time, we reward individuals for negativity, because we assume that people who participate in a positive way will continue to do so w/out any positive reinforcement.

The Problem: Fine, but that's also the case in reality. How often have screaming, frothing receipt-less enraged costumers been given their money back in clear violation of store policy? How often have you remembered a single negative comment from a friend, when it would otherwise be invisible in a sea of positive feedback? The impulse that leads us to focus on the negative online, leads us to do the exact same thing in real life.

I want to point out that we're talking about an internet article on the way the internet is dividing us, that was posted by one of my friends on FB,  which entirely ignores the hundreds of ways FB unites us... like FB!

There. Pointed out. Moving on.

#1- Re: The Divisive Gap Between Internet Users and Everyone Else

Okay, this one is not even really about science you guys. It's more like a summary of statistics regarding who has and/or uses the internet and who doesn't.The claim is that there is a gap between those who access the internet and those who don't.

The Problem: The fact that my Grandma may not understand lolcat references is meaningless. It's quite likely that even if my Grandma used the internet, she still would not get lolcat references simply because of the vast generational gap. There's no reason that the gap exacerbated by the internet is one that results in significant changes in relationships between ourselves and our grandparents.

Furthermore, that fact that poor countries and poor areas of wealthy countries lack internet is symptomatic of the thing that truly creates cultural divisions between the rich and the poor- being rich or being poor. Would we really have more in common with Ethiopia if they had an internet connection? Oh my bad! If they could only scope the DailyDawdle, or if we couldn't, the inequities in education, basic sanitation, access to medical care, housing, and nutrition would be rendered meaningless!

The internet did not invent human nature. Like all other human tools, it is simply a reflection of it.


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