HIT Piece 9.13.2016: Facebook-as-the-Internet

You are probably going to read this post by clicking on a link from Facebook, if you read this at all.

More likely than not, you won’t read this if you see it posted on LinkedIn (it seems too arduous to click on an article, thus the increase of click-bait recently on the platform).

If you happen to see the link to the blog post on Twitter (I didn’t pay for it to trend, nor do I have enough heft to cut through the constant firehose of information on the platform) you most likely won’t read it either.

These three platforms (along with Google) have created an environment of ease of access, shareability of information, and have grown through social proofing (“Everybody else is there, so I must be there as well”) that their influence as media companies is now being seriously discussed by media companies still around from the 20th century.

This leads to three problems, beyond the obvious ones though:

  1. There are biases evident in both the algorithms that run these platforms (as usual, computer models and programs are created by human beings, and human beings have biases) but that phenomenon is compounded by the fact that the people using the platform the most have their own biases. The real struggle is not to get more human curators to do the work of curating that an algorithm is programmed to do. The real struggle for both human curators and the human programmed algorithms running in the background of these platforms, is to educate and inform the audience using the platforms in spite of their biases.
  2. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pintrest, Snapchat, and on and on, are not the Internet. They are applications built atop the Internet. By only accessing information through these silos (the search engine Duck Duck Go actually gives better results than Google) the “lock-in” effect gets deeper and deeper in the person doing the search. This can be a positive. But it can also create myopia, willful ignorance, and a lack of curiosity about the world outside of these platforms.
  3. In the future, the social media and information communication platforms built on top of the Internet will become more fractured, not less. This is the reaction/response to the first two problems, and to solving the problem inherent in the sentence that opened this post. Eventually, more and more niche audiences, being less and less served by the platforms built at “mass” (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, et.al) will seek information out on the long-tail of options. There will be some reverting back to what came before social media (i.e. chatrooms, discussion boards, email listservs (I’m on two or three) and other tools) but eventually, niche audiences will seek access to their own silos outside the megaphone of established social media platforms.

Note, I did not say that these platforms would be profitable, popular to the masses, or easy for outsiders to integrate to and use. Reddit is already like this to some degree in its resistance to monetization, its relative openness, and its vain efforts to curtail its core users’ language and political preferences.

But as every woman seeks the promise behind being her own information queen, the seduction inherent in getting away from Facebook-as-the-Internet will grow in popularity and promise.

[Opinion] The Dark Heart of Man

Let’s talk about the kind of communication we want to have.

[Opinion] The Dark Heart of Man

In person communications have always been fraught with difficulty, misunderstandings, miscommunications, negative escalations, and conflicts. When people talk with each other face-to-face there is always the opportunity for confusion and conflict, particularly if the conversation in question is questioning deeply held stories around values, worldviews, and frames.

It takes a lot of emotional quickening to escalate from a conversation to a confrontation to a conflict to a fistfight to a war. There are many discrete steps in face-to-face communication that social norming has established, developed, and refined for thousands of years to limit such escalation. But, as is always the case, human beings’ tools for communication get better, friction and misunderstanding increases, even as the speed of communication increases, and conflicts flare up.

From carrier pigeons to riders on horseback to the telephone to mail by airplane to emails and now Twitter, there have always been people who would rather have a fight than share an idea. And as the speed of our tools has increased how fast we get a message and then react to it, (going from days or weeks to micro-seconds) there hasn’t been a commensurate increase in the heart of rational contemplation.

Thus we get to social media communication. Trolls, bad actors, spammers, and others use the immediacy of social communication tools to psychologically manipulate people on the other end of the message into reacting rather than thinking. And there’s really only two reactions such individuals are seeking: fight or flight.

They aren’t looking for a measured argument.

They aren’t looking for reasonable discourse.

They aren’t looking for knowledge or growth.

They are looking for either a respondent’s heels or their fangs.

In the case of the Internet, and the communication tools we have built on top of it, we have exchanged immediacy for escalation, and have confused passion for legitimacy of an assertion. This is particularly problematic for people delivering messages that are outside the “mainstream,” or that rely on dispassionate examination of facts, rather than passionate reaction to opinions.

Ease of access to digital tools also allows communication to be focused on the tawdry and the spectacle—which is short term—instead of the deliberative and the reasonable—which is long-term. The creators of these digital tools—the owners of the platforms—may be publicly or privately traded companies, but make no mistake: the platforms are private property and the Internet, while vast, is not a place where 1.6 billion participants need to (or deserve to) cast a vote on the operations of a series of companies that built the platforms in the first place.

What kind of communication do we want to have?

The answer to that question, at least as is evidenced by the numbers of people using these communications tools, seems to be that we want friction free, painless, non-relational based communication when we want it, how we want it, that allows us to do what we want, when we want, how we want. But this is an inherently selfish and vain position, based in our perception of want, rather than a relational need.

Online communication will always be fraught with difficulty and no amount of changing a name policy, policing speech we don’t like, or building walls and doors into platforms, is going to prevent than difficulty. This is because the tools we use to communicate are the problem because of the assumptions and expectations built into them.

We’ve got to figure this out though, because at a global scale, there won’t be a positive outcome from communications wars between people. We are already seeing the beginnings of skirmishes around the edges of platforms such as Reddit and Twitter. We are also seeing responses to such skirmishes from companies such as SnapChat and WhatsApp, which promise to build platforms with more friendly assumptions around safety, conviviality, and trust built into them, rather than welded on from the outside as an afterthought.

More special interest groups meeting with Facebook isn’t going to solve this communications problem.

More governmental lobbying at scale by Google isn’t going to solve this problem either.

More closing off, disengaging online, or demanding more censorious penalties for people we don’t like, saying things that make us feel threatened, abused, or bullied (the aforementioned trolls, bad actors, and spammers) isn’t going to solve this problem either.

The solution to all of this, as with most things, lies in changing the motivations toward selfishness, vanity, and revenge that lie deep in the heart of man.

And, to borrow from Einstein when he was talking about the outcomes of the development of nuclear weapons, I’m going to bet that the founders of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and many, many other chatrooms, message boards, and email systems since the web was democratized, secretly wish, deep in their hearts, that they could go back in time, and instead become watchmakers.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Opinion] Original Intent

Whether people are debating the significance origin stories found in documents, or critiquing where innovations and progress ends up once other people (with other ideas) get involved, the search for “original intent” shows up.

The first reason that determining original intent is a fallacy and—to a certain degree—a way to either shut down conflict and force accommodation with whatever the new idea or innovation is, or it serves as a way to critique progress without really having any skin in the game.

The second reason that original intent is fallacious as an argument against progress, is that no one—and particularly not the initial founders or designers of an idea, a concept, a product or an innovation—had any idea what the future would hold.

Which is why many arguments for the continuation of the Second Amendment (or any other amendment in the Constitution) tend to be ignored. The original intent of the founders who wrote the amendment in the first place, was greatly influenced by their immediate past—and their current situation, which is now shrouded in the past of US history. The writers of the Constitution couldn’t have imagined steam power or railroads spanning the country, much less the Internet, AR-15’s or the specific geopolitical strife that lead to the decision to go to war in Vietnam.

Instead of focusing on original intent and trying to determine how that intent matches up to situations that did not exist in the past when that intent was originally developed, perhaps focusing on original principles–mission, vision, values, goals–would be a better route to success.

This is a particularly salient point as we begin to really think about what kind of Internet we want to have, even as the Internet changes into something that it’s original founders, designers and developers could never have imagined.

-Peace With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/