How Facebook is making us dumber?

Well, I have little doubt that all the technology is a double edged sword. On one hand, it is making us quicker in some of our tasks. But on the other hand it is just making us dumb controlling and sharing all the info which was once in our minds. For instance, telephone numbers of family and friends were pretty much stored mentally but now one does not remember his own phone number.

Anyways, here is Prof Cass Sunstein quoting research on how FB is making us dumber:

The new study, led by Michela Del Vicario of Italy’s Laboratory of Computational Social Science, explores the behavior of Facebook users from 2010 to 2014. One of the study’s goals was to test a question that continues to be sharply disputed: When people are online, do they encounter opposing views, or do they create the virtual equivalent of gated communities?

Del Vicario and her coauthors explored how Facebook users spread conspiracy theories (using 32 public web pages); science news (using 35 such pages); and “trolls,” which intentionally spread false information (using two web pages). Their data set is massive: It covers all Facebook posts during the five-year period. They explored which Facebook users linked to one or more of the 69 web pages, and whether they learned about those links from their Facebook friends.

In sum, the researchers find a lot of communities of like-minded people. Even if they are baseless, conspiracy theories spread rapidly within such communities.

More generally, Facebook users tended to choose and share stories containing messages they accept, and to neglect those they reject. If a story fits with what people already believe, they are far more likely to be interested in it and thus to spread it.

As Del Vicario and her coauthors put it, “users mostly tend to select and share content according to a specific narrative and to ignore the rest.” On Facebook, the result is the formation of a lot of “homogeneous, polarized clusters.” Within those clusters, new information moves quickly among friends (often in just a few hours).

The consequence is the “proliferation of biased narratives fomented by unsubstantiated rumors, mistrust, and paranoia.” And while the study focuses on Facebook users, there is little doubt that something similar happens on other social media, such as Twitter — and in the real world as well.

There is a self-reinforcing mechanism working here:

Striking though their findings are, Del Vicario and her coauthors do not mention the important phenomenon of “group polarization,” which means that when like-minded people speak with one another, they tend to end up thinking a more extreme version of what they originally believed. Whenever people spread misinformation within homogenous clusters, they also intensify one another’s commitment to that misinformation.

Of the various explanations for group polarization, the most relevant involves a potentially insidious effect of confirmation itself. Once people discover that others agree with them, they become more confident — and then more extreme.

In that sense, confirmation bias is self-reinforcing, producing a vicious spiral. If people begin with a certain belief, and find information that confirms it, they will intensify their commitment to that very belief, thus strengthening their bias.

Suppose, for example, that you think an increase in the minimum wage is a sensational idea, that the nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake, that Obamacare is working well, that Donald Trump would be a fine president, or that the problem of climate change is greatly overstated. Arriving at these judgments on your own, you might well hold them tentatively and with a fair degree of humility. But after you learn that a lot of people agree with you, you are likely to end up with much greater certainty — and perhaps real disdain for people who do not see things as you do.

Much of is true. Once an opinion is formed over something in social media, it is very difficult to convince people of the opposite. If one belongs to the second camp be ready to face an onslaught of hate messages/mails.

There is a reason why certain politicos have been really successful in social media. They have this initial audience who create some buzz around the leader which just snowballs into this huge following of sorts.

3 Responses to “How Facebook is making us dumber?”

  1. Tanya Jain Says:

    Hi! I agree with what you are writing, social media is actually a very strong platform and it gets difficult to convince people against their views sometimes. But, saying that Facebook is making us dumber is not entirely true. I mean you do get to know a about a lot of ongoing issues, events etc which is certainly very important.

    • Amol Agrawal Says:

      Hi Tanya,

      Surely FB and other sites have helped. They exist for the same reason. But all this too much tech is leading to dumbing brains. May be you are from this tech generation which stores everything in systems (and now the cloud). But there was a time we would remember a lot and could mentally calculate as well. Now, this is no more true.

      • Tanya Jain Says:

        Haan, I agree with what you are saying. But if you can store not-so-portant information on your phones and everything, you can learn more things that might be more important.

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