Oh, it’s turkey day. A time in which everyone is expected to come together as family and friends and eat, drink, and be merry. Everyone sits around a table in front of great food and catches up. That is until Aunt Jane decides to announce how terrible Hillary Clinton is and how she ought to be locked up. Then your cousin, John we’ll call him, notes that it’s not nearly as bad as Trump colluding with Russia. Well, kiss your great family time goodbye partner and buckle up. The internet has ruined Thanksgiving and it might be your fault.
Nearly every breaking story in the news this year has exposed to us two very polarizing viewpoints. That’s not unusual. What is unusual is the complete varying accounts of what actually happened, how it happened, and what that means to America. Not only are there two views but they seem to be becoming more and more polarizing, divisive, and extreme. This, in turn, drips down to our actions, mindsets, and beliefs at home. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, you should know have become more polarizing, divisive, and extreme.
It’s a worthwhile endeavor to examine exactly why this is and our role in creating this environment. We are drifting into extreme versions of our own beliefs, moving away from compassion and compromise, and digging our heels in on both sides of really any argument. Many things are happening across social platforms and driving some of this extreme, and sometimes “fake” content and you and I are feeding the beast.
What The F*%k Are You Talking About?!
Filtering and algorithms were put in place to show us content we are more likely to “like” and “share”. Let’s use an example everyone should be able to relate to, seeing ads for things you briefly glanced at and decided not to buy. (How did they know?)
If I’m visiting a website thinking about buying a new oven, when I go back into Facebook, I’m probably going to see an oven. This was, at first, pretty awesome. That oven that I had decided not to buy is now on sale and right here in front of me!
Now, imagine if I went up to everyone I ran into that day and said, “Hey did you see that awesome deal on ovens they’re running on Facebook?” Most would probably think, who the heck is this guy and what the fuck is he talking about. The reality is that you only saw that oven because you had been looking at ovens already. Everyone else was looking at something else that they like, not the oven.
Now let’s zoom out. Imagine that everything you read online that is opinionated or political is the exact same way. (It is) You sit down Thanksgiving dinner and comment on a news story you read about only to be met with blank stares. Several members of your family like and share content from a different viewpoint so they have no idea what you’re talking about.
Or, even better, they respond with a VERY heated opinion and judgment of your stance on the issue. Some family members have the opposite viewpoint. They like and share news and content from somewhere that reflects their views and thus are fed more of what they like. An argument ensues and you all walk away thinking the other is an idiot and debating if you want to come back next year. All this without even really knowing the other sides interpretation of events and why they made the conclusions they did. More than likely you’ve never been exposed to those views and interpretations, and if it’s not on my facebook feed it didn’t happen, did it?
When you continuously like content that reflects a certain viewpoint, technology is going to feed you more of it. If there is an article that doesn’t fit into what you’ve been liking and interacting with, chances are you’ll never even know it exists. Essentially, robbing you of having a completely unbiased view of anything. So when you’re thinking of bringing politics into the family Thanksgiving conversation, think again.
Everyone’s Got An Opinion
With opinionated content that blatantly takes a side while bashing the other viewpoint being the most shareable. Why don’t we just make more of that!
Today, it makes sense to have a strong opinion. It increases the chances your article will be shared, liked, and develop a following for your views and opinions. That’s how the game is played (more on that later) and if you want to win you have to find ways to exploit the rule system. Which everyone does.
Many news outlets claim to be “fair and balanced” but just a quick review of their content, moderators tweets, and constant pandering to their base show otherwise. In this digital world, we live in it pays to have a radical opinion, and it pays to have a radical fanbase… who will then buy your stuff and listen again which is what it’s all about right?
It’s All About The Benjamins
The reason for the surge in radical opinions and fake news is largely related to how one makes money writing and producing content on the internet. Largely, those who write on the internet are paid through ads, which require clicks, which require pageviews. There’s no reward for writing well-researched content. It’s all about the clicks and exposure you can bring your advertisers.
Therefore, a thoughtful piece about the effect of certain legislation on the middle class can make less money than “Hillary Clinton Involved In Alien Sex Scandal”. One takes considerable time and effort. The other takes minutes, gets tons of clicks, is promoted by those with radical views as real, and makes more money. Woof.
The incentives here award shock and awe, controversy for the sake of it over real facts and thoughtful opinions. Sounds a lot like where our country seems to be headed… which is also where your Thanksgiving dinner will be headed if you do not tread carefully.
The Sweatshop of Media Content
Back in the “old days” you had to look to printed publications to get your news. Putting together the news took time and considerable effort. Now, one person can publish 3 – 4 pieces per day and have them online with a single click.
This ability to produce content quickly coupled with the need to make money through clicks and page views has led to cranking out content as fast as possible. Often without much research and fact-checking. The absence of facts, however, leaves plenty of room for an opinion. Which can catch someone’s attention just as easily, if not more so than facts in some cases.
It’s much more profitable to produce 3 – 4 pieces of content in a day that are opinionated, catchy and will make us money more quickly than 1 piece that is well researched and takes time.
We’re So Damn Lazy
Not ALL of this blame can be placed at the feet of technology. No, no, no, YOU. YOU are also to blame, and I stand there with you.
It takes work, hard work, to find a completely unbiased view of what’s actually happening in the world around you. Hell, it takes a lot of effort just to get a solid overview of everything that is happening in the world, much less what it means.
We’ve gotten lazy. In our laziness, we’ve relied on technology to show us what we need to know. The problem is technology does not have your best interest in mind. It just wants to be used more often so those who created it can make more money.
Next time you read a story that gets you riled up, STOP. First, check around first, make sure what you’re reading is actually true. Not only that, make sure that what you’re reading about actually happened the way you read it did. Second, actively seek out information and sources that don’t always reflect your own opinion. Hear a new take.
As for this Thanksgiving, it may already be too late. If you tread into the shark-infested waters of politics this year. Know how most people are spoon fed their news, try to be open-minded, and avoid sharp objects on the table…