Frank Bruni writes: Those who’ve been raising alarms about Facebook are right: Almost every minute that we spend on our smartphones and tablets and laptops, thumbing through favorite websites and scrolling through personalized feeds, we’re pointed toward foregone conclusions. We’re pressured to conform.
But unseen puppet masters on Mark Zuckerberg’s payroll aren’t to blame. We’re the real culprits. When it comes to elevating one perspective above all others and herding people into culturally and ideologically inflexible tribes, nothing that Facebook does to us comes close to what we do to ourselves.
I’m talking about how we use social media in particular and the Internet in general — and how we let them use us. They’re not so much agents as accomplices, new tools for ancient impulses, part of “a long sequence of technological innovations that enable us to do what we want,” noted the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who wrote the 2012 best seller “The Righteous Mind,” when we spoke last week.
“And one of the things we want is to spend more time with people who think like us and less with people who are different,” Haidt added. “The Facebook effect isn’t trivial. But it’s catalyzing or amplifying a tendency that was already there.”
By “the Facebook effect” he didn’t mean the possibility, discussed extensively over recent weeks, that Facebook manipulates its menu of “trending” news to emphasize liberal views and sources. That menu is just one facet of Facebook.
More prevalent for many users are the posts we see from friends and from other people and groups we follow on the network, and this information is utterly contingent on choices we ourselves make. If we seek out, “like” and comment on angry missives from Bernie Sanders supporters, we’ll be confronted with more angry missives from more Sanders supporters. If we banish such outbursts, those dispatches disappear.
That’s the crucial dynamic, algorithm or whatever you want to call it. That’s the trap and curse of our lives online.
The Internet isn’t rigged to give us right or left, conservative or liberal — at least not until we rig it that way. It’s designed to give us more of the same, whatever that same is: one sustained note from the vast and varied music that it holds, one redundant fragrance from a garden of infinite possibility. [Continue reading…]