There was always that guy in class with whom you’d never agree. Each brought their experiences (and sources) to the class texts. Each came up with different interpretations as to what the texts meant. Then, when class was over, you’d go your sperate ways. If you met him at the cafeteria, the discussion would be about the weather or some other innocuous subject. Then, the next day it would back to the old argument. I knew many such people. I was such a person. But, it all worked out. Even if we did not change each other’s opinions, a structure in place allowed us to learn from the experience. I’ve concluded that Social Media is that class, without a timetable or structure.
Imagine you are back in class, only there is no bell at 90 minutes that brings the discussion to an end. Imagine the professor has no educational goal in mind for the discussion but instead wants to inflame passions, so the discussion keeps going. Finally, imagine that the professor could feed each of you sources that support your worldview while hiding sources that might explain the other. The professor we are describing is Social Media.
The basic premise behind much media theory is that the medium is the message. A newspaper receives ad money benefits with in-depth articles. Every time a reader returns to the page for a second or third read, they see the ads again. A 24-hour cable news channel wants relevance so that a viewer keeps tuning back in and seeing the commercials that air every 20 minutes.
Social Media does not need content to bring you back to re-read. For ad revenue to come in, they need the page to refresh. Every time someone looks to see if there has been a response, that’s a page refresh, which means more revenue. No moderating professor is leading the discussion towards an educational outcome. The moderator is trying to prolong the debate to add to the number of times the webpage refreshes.
Here’s the kicker. The moderator feeds both sides of their own news sources that indicate that they are right.
If I met someone on the street while wearing my tinfoil hat, we could have a pleasant few moments of banter until we went our separate ways. There would be no reason that person to think any further, aside from perhaps telling a friend of the time spent with the crazy tall guy. However, if I am a Facebook friend, I can follow with my tinfoil hat ideas until, against the person’s better judgment, they respond in a way they would never do in the classroom. Then, it’s off to the races with refreshing the page to look for responses.
I don’t believe there is any wisdom or knowledge to be gained from Social Media. It’s not a way of educating anyone, it’s a way of monetizing confirmation bias. No one leaves a Social Media discussion changed or enlightened. They leave with the vague feeling that the other person simply does not understand. Perhaps they would if you just forward one more thing.