Facebook bans the Confirmation Bias

Being a long-time sceptic of the influence social media, I was happy to hear last week that Facebook had banned news.  It’s not that I necessarily support the government’s efforts; I don’t understand the offending policy well enough to have an opinion about whether it is good or bad. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess about whether any policy is needed at all, I’m just not that well versed on the legislation. Despite this, I felt happy.

I was happy because on social media, news ceases being news. In the internet age, the function of any article is to go viral. A viral article’s success can be measured by the number of clicks it receives. And an article becomes highly clicked not because of its newsworthiness, but because it is fodder for the pet outrages, grudges, insecurities and vanities of we, the masses.

The majority of our web-downtime is spent nurturing and feeding these pets. Psychologists call this effect the confirmation bias. The confirmation bias is a type of mental filtering where information that confirms or strengthens a pre-existing belief is sought out and consumed. On the other hand, information that disproves or invalidates the belief is ignored or misunderstood.

And the stronger these beliefs get, the harder it is to understand facts that don’t fit in with them.

When we are exposed to a piece of “news” on social media the filtering begins while still reading the heading:

Yes! My political team winning!

What have those crazy (insert outgroup name here) done now? They’re so dumb!

I always knew I was right and now this article validates me!

I had always feared that (insert dark factoid about society/human nature here) might be true, and this has just confirmed it.

When Facebook banned news, millions of Australians instantly became better informed because they were denied material for their confirmation biases. They blocked the opportunity to confirm the pre-existing paranoias and wishful thinkings of the multitudes. What a public service!

Your click history reveals more about your personality structure than about the structure of the world. And internet companies are gathering and using and selling this information about the structure of you. As you get dumber, the companies that feed off you get smarter and smarter.

Sadly, as I wrote this article I discovered (on a subscriber paid news site) that this ban has been lifted. Millions return to the daily distraction of consolidating their confirmation biases. The Experience Machine opens its doors once more and beckons us in.

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