Could Social Media Destroy the World? ~ John Hamilton

Arnold, CA…I have had a gnawing fear the last year that social media with all its benefits of instant gratification and at least the appearance of connectedness has a potentially catastrophic flaw. It has the ability to inspire mob like behavior almost instantly. Everything looks simple in a gif or a meme. Snippets of entire speeches or events can be made to confirm bias left or right. In our algorithm driven world each of our biases are fed with an ever increasing stream of bias confirming content. This works fine for shopping for a new TV. It is fatal for societies.

Confirmation Bias is not fact or good policy. It doesn’t matter if you feel Trump is saving society and a MAGA hat is a permanent part of your wardrobe or if you think Hitler had more redeeming qualities than the Orange one. Confirmation bias distorts all of our views! Yours and unfortunately even mine.

This social media bias makes it almost impossible to believe what we know scientifically to be true. According to Pareto’s Law it is almost a certainty that a full 80% of us agree on 80% of the issues 80% of the time.

The only way Democracies stay Democracies is not winner take all! It is where minority, unpopular and possibly incorrect opinions have as much right to be heard as the majority’s. Let the French Revolution serve as a warning from history.

In France the mob or the majority beheaded more people with the guillotine than died in the entire American Revolutionary war. At the end of the American Revolution we had a representative republic. At the end of the French Revolution in essence they traded King Louis for Napoleon and had less freedoms than before.

The only safety is free speech, principled disagreements and where agreements aren’t possible to agree to disagree on a topic and try to agree on the next one. Social Media has left us in a state now where agreeing to disagree becomes almost impossible because we may offend our “friends” and “followers”.

Whole news organizations left and right are now held captive ideologically in fear of straying from social media positioned orthodoxy. They are only free to publish or report in a manner that confirms the bias left or right. If they stray they risk a loss of both revenue and viewers.

Recent horrific events that offended everyone have shown where events can erupt into flames that at times seem to burn uncontrollably. Could this be a warning shot that we are only one horrific event from a spark that actually destroys our country?

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand directly led to the First World War that solved absolutely nothing and even with the bloodshed and loss of 20 million souls the world was arguably less stable afterwards. Are we really immune from a wave of violence engulfing the world again? Could social media be the match that sets it ablaze?

Decisions made by leaders in the past for good or evil were made in the historical context of the era in which they lived. That is the only fair and accurate way to look at them. Were our founding fathers flawed? Of course they were. Then again so are you and I.

Slavery was ubiquitous and pervasive throughout the world at that time. Not only was there slavery in its traditional form there were various forms of indentured servitude where some form of slavery that seems almost incomprehensible looking back was for those living in that era normal.

The amazing thing to me has always been that our founding fathers were able to create the founding documents of our nation in that environment at all. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness were noble goals then and even if they need to be refreshed and updated in the context of today they are still noble goals today.

Pareto’s Law leaves us with the almost certainty that the majority of us agree on the majority of issues the majority of the time. This only helps if our confirmation biased brains will allow us to believe it.

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