I have been wondering around for some time about some of the reasons of why some… not very ethical individuals are able to use certain technology tools highly efficiently, but others with less harmful intentions cannot match the same skill level. A widely known example of this has been the use of radical groups of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. Although naive, it is not strange to quickly think: ‘well, if some bad guys can do it, why not the good guys as well’.
The first and most obvious think is that the binary simplification of good/bad guys will always be incorrect. The world is painted in all imaginable shades of gray. No matter how destructive are the beliefs held from a group of people, it is unlikely that they come for pure evil. As Hanlon’s razor states “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. If I have to create my own take o this, I would probably replace stupidity by misinformation, but in this case the aphorism will lose power.
Going back to the previous argument, if not all social groups are able to use the same tools to the same degree, different options arise: Maybe one social group that did not, or cannot take advantage of the same tools by plain incompetence. In some cases, I guess that this may be true, but I find very unlikely that this is just the main reason always. It feels very strange to say that all the conspiracy creators are masters in YouTube, but there is not a single person capable of refute them that is not able to use the same platform as efficiently as them. Seems strange that exactly the person that has shown that is capable of rational thinking, cannot decipher social media. Or the other way around: it seems very strange that only the people who are attracted to irrational believes are the ones to be able to master social media. Add the vast amounts of people wandering around these platforms have, and it seems this line of reasoning gets less and less appealing.
A second reason that have some strength is about timing. Maybe bad actors just get there sooner. I agree with this assumption in some cases: probably not many believed that a democratic election (US or Brexit, for example) could be heavily affected by social media. However, Obama’s campaign did use social media effectively before, although not at the same level as most recent examples. Timing always helps, but I find unlikely that this is the only reason.
I have read in the past that this may be because intelligent and smart people may not be interested in entangling discussions. I find this reason even less compelling than previous ones. I mean, in platforms with billions of people, there is not a single smart person arrogant enough that wants to show how smart they are? No way that is not happening. We can look also for more positive examples: there is a vast amount of people that like to teach and help others to improve selflessly. Social media is a good place to find a lot of people to provide this kind of service.
The (very) lame excuse will be to say that technology is neutral. So what? technology will also be used by humans, and we face several challenges to be neutral. In fact, my guess is that this effect seems to be a particular trait of humans: we are wired to follow content that aligns with what we thought, not the one that challenges our critical thinking. Facebook, Google and YouTube have proven clearly how easily misinformation wins the hand when it looks the same as information. Facts are no longer important, and anyone is an expert without all the work, just because the internet that is pushed into my eyes says so. The same internet that was created after analyzing my patterns and what I do around, so I keep going back to the same platforms, so they can generate more revenue.
As I described in a previous post, this is technology that exploits people. There is no point to make people better in any way.
And this is the main issue that is very challenging to solve. Let us consider the following:
– I think I see a plane.
– I see a UFO.
Both sentences can be describing the same action. A mechanical object flying around at a large distance is very likely a plane. But if it is not clear, you can say correctly that you are seeing an unidentified flying object. The difference is that the response of the second sentence will open a debate, while the first sentence… will generate probably nothing.
During human history, humans were able to defeat hunger, many sickness, and create systems like democracy to advance in the quality of life. We are now in a moment were we may be creating cages for our minds. Worse, some people want to create cages to slave us. Like actions, words have power. And we need to be trained in confronting the ones that do not speak what we want to hear. Living in bubbles is always dangerous, and even more if the bubble only for our mind.
I am far from the first to describe the power of words, in fact, there has been many people that illustrate this way better than me: