Hello, Hello, hello, hello, hello – The Echo Chambers of the internet

Last week we talked about the idea of who controls and makes the content that is being distributed nowadays. This was very interesting to discuss because they conjure up to different responses in people.

When you say someone is “controlling” the content that you receive, generally people get a bit taken back and want to find out more and discover how to stop someone else from “controlling” it. But in reality, you are controlling it most of the time. The algorithms that are being used are looking at what you do and then curating your content around those things.

This is great if you have a hobby and want to spend time online doing more things and reading more things around that hobby. This is not so great though if you want to see more different types of things. In order to see more, you have to make an effort to go out and find things because the social media systems that you are using are not going to offer you “off the wall/out of the box” things to view. This is very obvious to me on my news feed on my phone. It is very, very travel-centric. This is simply because I open and read those articles so obviously, I want to read more of them. In order to change my feed, I need to actively search for other things that I am interested in. One of the best ways I have found to do this is to share my new service with someone else. My mother and I, for example, read the same news app but not always the same articles. She will often highlight an article that I have completely skipped that I, in fact, enjoyed reading when I opened it. The problem comes in that fact that this does not happen in a way that affects my algorithms. So I still mostly get the travel stuff on my phone.  I wonder if there is a way that we could link our accounts so that we could affect each other’s algorithms! Hmmmmm, new app idea anyone!

Anyway… This system of being curated too is I think one of the issues we have today with people finding themselves in echo chambers. In this instance, I mean an echo chamber in the sense that you are surrounded in your social media by people that the algorithms see you as being like-minded with. This is in my opinion what is leading to the current tension in many areas of the world. You start out in this echo chamber of something that sounds positive or helpful but it can turn into something else and begin to get out of control without people realizing it. This was mentioned in the block post I wrote earlier about the Facebook group that was set up around the Arab Spring. https://caryghart.wordpress.com/2018/10/03/the-social-media-conundrum/

It is similar to the story about how to boil a frog. I won’t go into the details, but when things change subtly and slowly you are less likely to notice those changes this can lead to people ending up in quite radical groups and not realizing it until someone points it out from the outside. It is the same thing as the gang mentality that I was recently reading about that caused the murder of two men in Mexico. I think it is work to make sure that we curate our content but I also think that we can’t complain about being curated to if we aren’t willing to do the work to challenge the algorithms ideas about who we are and what we need to see.    

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The Social Media Conundrum

This evening we discussed the rise and impact of Social Media. There were many points that come up throughout the discussion and we watched several TED talks around the thing that is Social Media.

One interesting discussion point was that I am of an age where I developed most of who I am as a person pre-social media. This is not the case for school age children now. They are growing up in the era of social media. They may not have it themselves but they see it in their peers, parents, media, TV, etc.

We also discussed this idea that people only post the “happy go lucky” version of their lives and how that isn’t necessarily different from the way they project how their life is in face to face relationships.

When you think of these two together though as my classmate pointed out. What effect is social media having on the development of personalities? Are young adults actually living the life that social media portrays because they want to or because they feel that this is who they have to “be”. Are they effectively able to develop as an individual within a world that has a heavy social media influence?

I teach younger students and I have seen first hand how their behavior on the football pitch is direct copying of the behaviors they see of professional players. Now, this is not new because of technology. What is new is how widespread it is.  People have copied those that they idolize since forever, but now everyone can copy one or two people in minute detail with slow motion, play by play. Is this affecting them negatively? Is there even a way to study that to test that theory?

We also watched this TED Talk about public shaming that has happened on Twitter. He makes many good points but the one that struck a chord with us in class today was the idea that the person who spoke up and said: “I’ not sure her joke was intended to be racist.” (min 6:33) got shut down. Whereas the person who said that “Someone with aids should rape this b#$%^ and then we’ll find out if her skin color protects her from aids.” (minute 8:10) has no one telling them that their comment was inappropriate.

I have seen this multiple times on Facebook and it is something that I try to avoid but is not always possible. It is not always possible to avoid seeing it but I do avoid interacting with it. I don’t understand how people can claim to have one set of values but think it is also okay to speak like they have another set because they disagree with someone else’s beliefs, values, religion, etc. Being on the internet is not a free pass to bash people.

We also watched this video of a talk by Wael Ghonim who created the Facebook page that was one of the key rallying points for the Arab Spring. He points out that what started as a positive movement because large and unsustainable. That social media was at first a positive but in the end a detriment.

I have seen this first hand with Facebook groups that I have been in that became larger and unmanageable. They got to a point where the work it took to manage the content, messages, and personalities becomes almost a full-time job.

All and all I think it goes back to how the tool is used. This statement can be used in many contexts but it is true in social media. I think part of what makes it something that is going to be debated about for all time is that social media is so fast. It is fast to start, fast to change, fast to disappear, just fast. So it is a very dynamic “thing” which makes it hard to study, manage, and moderate.