As noted on Wikipedia, Aristotle is the first person credited with having written about the "wisdom of the crowd". I'm going to rely pretty heavily on this article in the beginning of this post since it references a lot of what I've been thinking about.
it is possible that the many, though not individually good men, yet when they come together may be better, not individually but collectively, than those who are so, just as public dinners to which many contribute are better than those supplied at one man's cost
To paraphrase (as is my understanding): groups of people coming together, will have a better, more accurate estimate or conclusion to a "question" than a single individual will, and the larger the group, the more accurate the answer will be.
On The Scale
There was a contest in 1906 (and it's actually fairly common now) where, at a country fair, 800 people participated in a contest to guess the weight of an ox (which, according to the article and writing, was 1207 pounds). The group average came to 1198 pounds (just 1% off!!!).
Ok, so this is one example, which keeps coming to mind, and it was with 800 people, guessing the weight of an ox (you also see people trying to guess how many jelly beans there are in a jar, and various other things). So now, with the advent of the internet, we have the ability to make guessing games (and not games) like this global. We can put up questions and debates and studies to the global community (and we have and do this already). This is great and usually leads to extremely positive results.
So why even post about this? Well, I can go on for days about the risks of social media (I have been for years, actually), and I will in further posts, but there are already some documentaries that echo (using this term for a reason), my thoughts pretty well (The Social Dilemma). Anyway, here's the problem in a nutshell:
The human brain (again, as I see it, with no formal education on the subject) is much like a resonance chamber. We are predisposed to like certain things, certain messages. There's an argument to be said about nature vs nurture. Those predispositions to certain types of activities, actions, communication styles, and personalities are what drive us in our relationships and lifestyles as we grow. These can change over time, based on who we are exposed to, what level of exposure we have, and how we are taught (reinforcement of reaction to action). I know this because if this were not true, things like "learning", "therapy, "brainwashing" or even prison "readjustment" would not be possible. So, I guess let's hope the above is at least partially correct.
Also, just a quick thing I've seen lately and will post on separately: some people out there just want to see others fail. They enjoy it and get pleasure out of it. This is not necessarily because they are broken in any way or evil or morally bankrupt. I'm not passing judgment here. I'm just stating something through what I have seen through their own admission on chat in various different channels and on different occasions (with different individuals). Some people think the only way they can succeed is by forcing others to fail. Sometimes, this can be for very valid reasons (gaming, for example, comes to mind - where player versus player game modes are prevalent, this mentality is core to the game style). Some people enjoy causing arguments and verbal abuse (bullies, etc). Some people love to help others, even at the expense of themselves. They get pleasure seeing others succeed. This is the balance. This is also the danger in having a global community and we need to be completely aware that it exists and not everyone has your best interest in mind.
Ok, with that, let's get back to the internet and the ox. Oh man, now I want to change the title of the blog post. Ugh, yeah, that's too good. Ok, ignore the permalink (URL)... Aaaanyway... The internet and the ox:
So, we are a resonance chamber, we like to hear things that we like to hear. Politics for a second: Fox News was LOVED by republicans when the message was on-brand for Trump. Then something happened during the 2020 election and part of Fox programming changed messaging and starting reporting similar messaging to that of CNN and NBC and other less on-brand networks for Trump supporters. What was the result? Well, during the MillionMAGAMarch, they were chanting "Fox sucks", and in an interview done by the Daily Show (yes, politically leaning very left, but the questions were hilariously neutral), they asked various supporters why they hated Fox and if they hated ALL of Fox News programming now, and guess what? No... they only hated the programming that was NOT expressing the messaging they wanted to hear. Hannity and Tucker were A-OK in their book, but everyone else, nope.
So, it wasn't really the channel that was the problem, but the message. Ok, why and how is this an issue with the ox? I'll get there.
Let's talk about social media and echo chambers. I'm sure a lot of you have seen the Social Dilemma. If you haven't, it's good. My main takeaway is this (and this is something that has rung true for many years for me):
Humans have been around for thousands of years (tens of thousands in a community societal evolutionary state). We have had language and long-distance communication for a very, very long time, but it took thousands of years to get there. We were in caves, nomads, for thousands of years as well. We had to evolve to get to where we are today, as a society, mentally and physically. The latter is important. Our brains evolved. We evolved to be able to live in community groups, to be able to interact, to react to one another, to socialize in small gatherings and groupings. When we received letters or word from afar of something that caused great anger or concern, there was time for the chemicals in our brains to adjust and we could calm ourselves, discuss with others in a quorum, and react appropriately. Yes, we had wars, we fought battles with other tribes and cities and nations. But the key thing to note here is that communication and messaging took time, and the people, the citizens, the soldiers, the leaders, all took time to speak to each other and, for the most part, leveled off.
Then came the internet and in less than what, 20 years, we have a single, GLOBAL community. This has led to a few issues:
- Reactions are now instant. Our brains have not evolved to know how to deal with that. Chemicals in our brains and bodies don't have a chance to level out. We react instantly. We respond instantly. The person on the other side also responds. In a lot of cases, responses are public. Others respond. The group is larger. People pile on. This is new. We haven't been able to adjust to this. We don't know how to react to this. We need to learn how to cope with this kind of instant messaging
- The companies that run the mediums on which we communicate can, in fact, control the messaging we receive. For example: Let's use Ox game. Q company has bet against people getting the right answer (someone has to), so they are whispering constantly to millions that that the Ox weighs 798 pounds, 796, 805. It couldn't possibly weigh 1200 or anywhere close to that. It's impossible. No recorded Ox in history has weighed that much. This is where we have a problem. If they can reach millions because of the platform (this was not previously possible) and a few of those millions are not necessarily inclined to question the messaging because they may have been pre-inclined to think the ox was a little on the lighter side, you are now actively tipping the scales, which completely breaks the benefit of the "wisdom of the crowd" and this is incredibly dangerous. Especially if Q company starts running other messaging that further detracts from Oxen weighing more than, say 900 pounds. "Obese ox found to be highly unhealthy at 850 pounds", or "Have you EVER seen an Ox so large?" with a photo of a huge Ox that actually weighs 1500 pounds but a caption saying it weighs 950 pounds.
- Demonization of opposing parties has become increasingly popular, where-as building bridges has become "weak". This is just horrible, but you see it right now. Politics warning: you see it right now with the GOP backing up fraudulent voting claims which have been debunk and even the attorneys in court have said there is no merit in some cases, but in public have said the opposite (still not sure how they continue to be able to practice).
- Anonymity on the internet emboldens core (negative) behaviour: because we can be anonymous, we feel like we can say or do whatever we want on the internet. Usually, this results in truly negative, disgusting behavior. I've seen this a lot in gaming, online forums (Reddit, 4chan, facebook, twitter, etc.) This is something that we absolutely need to address but also reinforces my previous statement about some people just want to see others hurt.
In the end, if the internet were similar to the advent of fire for humanity (which, I honestly believe it is akin to), Social media, without proper review and education, will be akin to the advent of nuclear weapons.
How much does the Ox weigh (1207 lbs)?
- 800 people in a small town: 1198 lbs
- The Internet: 1207 lbs
- After Social Media whispering: THERE IS NO OX!
Interestingly enough, as I was looking for images to put in this post, I came across a lot of other material that reflects similar concerns. So, while I am writing this pretty much in my own bubble, it's clearly very similar to what others have lectured on in the past. That lecture was from 2014. I would love to see it updated given what happened this year.
I've also heard some say, well the media is really the problem here. Ok, I get it. But the media has literally been around since people could communicate via written form - and more to the point, it was very much around for the last 100 years. So, I'm not a subscriber to the media, in general, being the issue. It's not the media, in my opinion, it's the message and the medium. The constant barrage, coupled with the term "news" being used in the wrong place ("news feed" - nope...), the false information being "up for debate" - nope... it's literally all of this, in a massive, massive scale, hitting millions of people from all angles (friends, online, tv, everywhere). This is new, and it needs to be handled.
What do we do? I think we need to do a few things:
- Break the cycle. Teach our kids how to identify possible false information online, question and lookup answers. Historical data. Trusted sources (and how to know what a trusted source is). Look at books, talk to others, get different points of view. There are many techniques, and many people, much smarter than me have, I'm sure, already provided a ton of material - but I plan on showing my kids how I do it.
- Always try to be kind. Lend a helping hand. Instead of trying to break down someone, if you can help, do it. If you can't step away. I always, always felt better when I helped others than when I didn't. This is why, if I wasn't successful in technology, I always wanted to be a police officer.
- If you find yourself in a toxic conversation or environment, try to make it less toxic. Provide humor if you have that skill, or maybe diffuse the conversation, change the topic if you can, or listen and come to a compromise. If it is truly toxic and you are engaging with one of the personally types mentioned above (those that just want to see others fail or suffer, walk away or otherwise disengage - there is no winning and there is no law that says you have to stay engaged with that person).
- This one is for social media. There absolutely needs to be censorship. Sorry 1a lovers. That's my perspective. Hate speech should never be given a platform. I'm being very precise with the word given. It will always find a way to make it out there. You don't have to help. (You may say this contradicts the "help everyone" mantra, but there are some caveats to that... don't help people hurt people - I mean, use common sense).
- False information should never be given a platform. Facts are facts. If you post a photo of an Ox that weighs 1200 lbs, you shouldn't be able to say "this ox weighs 950 lbs" and have it be labeled as disputed opinion. You shouldn't be able to post a random "quote" that someone never said and have it stay online for millions to see. You shouldn't be able to have a video online stating that masks don't work and that a virus is a global hoax in the middle of a global pandemic for millions to see and "judge for themselves". People will believe what they want to believe because they want to believe it. You need to shower them with facts, not fiction (or label it as fiction, clearly).
- Leaders need to stop demonizing each other for monetary and political gains, and demonize those who knowingly mislead the public. Those that do need to be held liable for it. This includes the leaders of the social media platforms they utilize, as well.
- Regulate the mediums. Treat this like a disease. It is more dangerous than smoking. We see this now with a pandemic. We see it with hate speech and racism. We see it with potentially destabilizing governments. We actually do not know what these disinformation campaigns are going to do to the next generation, but the fact that 73+ million people believe a lot of the Q-anon conspiracy stuff out there is just... mind blowing. This is absolutely an existential problem and we need to treat it as such.
- The guards need to start guarding the guards.
But honestly, this is probably best answered by the world as a whole ;)