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Why Facebook makes us worse but Wikipedia makes us better – The Dallas Morning News

Summary

Well before the advent of social media, Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd illustrated the problems with public discourse in an old Saturday Night Live sketch. In a point-counterpoint style debate, their dialogue quickly moves from point, to counterpoint, to personal insult. The insults themselves are unprintable here, but it’s easy to find the clip online.

Forty years later, we see this same pattern in the unhealthy relationship betwee…….

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Well before the advent of social media, Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd illustrated the problems with public discourse in an old Saturday Night Live sketch. In a point-counterpoint style debate, their dialogue quickly moves from point, to counterpoint, to personal insult. The insults themselves are unprintable here, but it’s easy to find the clip online.

Forty years later, we see this same pattern in the unhealthy relationship between traditional media as the content generator and social media as the megaphone. When a Carroll ISD school official was recently recorded saying that a Texas law required teachers to present “opposing views” of the Holocaust, this phrase was used verbatim as a headline in local and national media.

On social media, the educator was quickly branded a “racist” and “Holocaust denier” by throngs of people who don’t know her at all. Any reasonable person should see through this ad hominem attack. Of course, there is a consensus about historical facts such as the Holocaust. It was highly unlikely this is what the educator meant, nor what the Texas Legislature intended in the law.

The school district quickly issued a retraction and apology, as we knew they would all along, but the damage was already done. Parents feel angry; teachers feel unsafe.

Now, it’s possible that the point of these articles was to show the law is too vague as written, and thus historical events are likely to be treated in the same way as more controversial social movements. But if this was supposed to be the takeaway, a more helpful headline would be: “Districts have difficulty implementing new law.” It’s not as interesting, and thus not as likely to draw readers.

In behavioral economics, there is an acronym WYSIATI that means: what you see is all there is. That is, we draw conclusions about the world based only on what we know about it. You only know what you know, and you infer the rest.

Ironically, it is easier to draw a conclusion with fewer facts than from more facts. You fill in the gaps to reach the conclusion you want, rather than deal with the messy inconsistencies in real-life stories, for instance when good people are placed in impossible situations.

Our tendency toward confirmation bias plays a role here too. We’re likely to seek out information that confirms what we already think about the world. If a headline makes us angry, we’re likely to click on similar content.

None of this is inevitable though. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, much of this tension on social media is a result of design features. For example, if Facebook prioritizes controversial posts, this results in more traffic to the site.

Additionally, a small number of people can have a …….

Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2021/10/24/why-facebook-makes-us-worse-but-wikipedia-makes-us-better/