“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it”.
-Jonathan Swift, 1701
In July this year, WhatsApp limited the ability of Indian users to forward a chat to just 5 people as opposed to the standard 20 that applies internationally.
India Today reports that
“Nowadays, people not only forward the goody-goody quotes on WhatsApp, they also share misinformation, fake news and plain malicious rumours. This has played some role in the lynching of over two dozen people in India in the last six odd months”
Already, some of those who founded today’s social media applications are looking, hands akimbo, from the bottom of Silicon Valley, thinking what the hell they have created. Some of them are quitting the use of social media and restricting their kids from being exposed to them.
Washington Post reports that on the evening of Sept. 26, 2018 Bailey Richardson, one of the founders of Instagram logged in to Instagram for the last time to inform her 20,000 followers:
“The time has come for me to delete my Instagram. Thanks for all the kindnesses over the years.”
Asked why she was quitting the application she founded with 12 others in 2010, Richardson said,
“In the early days, you felt your post was seen by people who cared about you and that you cared about. That feeling is completely gone for me now. The sense of intimacy, artistry and discovery that defined early Instagram and led to its success has given way to a celebrity-driven marketplace that is engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being.”
Washington Post says that Richardson’s decision isn’t novel:
“68 percent of Americans have either quit or taken a break from social media this year, according to the Pew Research Centre.”
Daily Mail (UK) reports that millennials or generation Z (as they are now also called) are quitting social media in droves. Half of those surveyed stated they had quit or were considering quitting at least one social media platform. One respondent said,
“I was presenting this dishonest version of myself, on a platform where most people were presenting dishonest versions of themselves”
Why are young people quitting social media?
• 41% of respondents believe they waste too much time on social media
• 35% say other millennials are too distracted by their online lives
• 22% say they wanted more privacy and couldn’t cope with the pressure to get attention
• 2% say social media make them feel bad about themselves.
The Guardian UK reports that in a 2017 survey, 63% of British school children said they would be happy if social media had never been invented.
The frustration is also spreading among Nigerian youths. Some are asking very serious question about the value of their being constantly on social media. According to one respondent,
“Why should I spend my valuable time massaging the ego of people who are simply seeking attention or connecting with people that I don’t feel like connecting to?”
The social media in Nigeria has gone beyond people seeking just attention. The twin evil of misinformation and fake news have become mainstream. Their effects are so befuddling that many are losing their ability to think clearly or to restrain themselves from sharing information that are patently either misleading or mischievous or both.
A new research “The Dark Side of Information Proliferation”
published this week by the Professor Thomas Hill of the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology examined the “information bottleneck we all face, and the “severe pitfalls” of the psychological processes behind the shortcuts and sifting methods we intuitively employ to try to deal with that increasing torrent of ever evolving information.”
Professor Hills identifies four particularly worrying biases.
Negative Bias: Fear and Dread Risk.
The negativity bias induces us to identify and re-communicate information about risk at the expense of more balanced information. As well as being disproportionately drawn towards the negative we are also more likely to share such information. This leads to “social risk amplification.”
Belief-consistent bias: Global Group think.
To cope with information proliferation, people tend to personalize information favouring information consistent with their current beliefs and avoiding belief-inconsistent information.
Social Bias: Following the herd.
People’s appetite for “social information” on their smartphones and other devices is crowding out other kinds of information in memory. This can lead to herding and undermine collective wisdom in favour of someone else’s online opinions. Imitating others can be very useful in uncertain environments where mistakes are costly, but neuroimaging evidence indicates that when we choose to do that we turn off the processing associated with our own critical evaluation – our better judgment.
Predictive Bias: The Peril of Patterns.
People love looking for patterns but these can be deeply deceiving and information proliferation greatly accelerates the risk that we fasten on to spurious correlations, patterns and predictions.
As the competition to get our attention grows, information that better exploits one of the four psychological pathways above has a natural advantage, leading it to be better detected, recalled, and reproduced in the social propagation of information.
Unfortunately, misinformation (i.e., Fake News) has a significant advantage in those competitive environments.
Professor Hills concludes:
The evidence suggests that things are rapidly moving beyond our control.”
Sherry Turkle, another psychologist said
“Those little devices in our pockets are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do but they change who we are. I think we are setting ourselves up for trouble-trouble in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we also relate to ourselves. Technology is taking us where we don’t want to go.”
Indeed, thing are getting out of hand and we are going where we do not want to go. But then, what is your role in the descent to chaos? Are you a social media drunk? Do you forward or share what you have not verified to be true? Do you easily believe everything you read on the social media?