Food for thought: Social media sent information back to the dark ages

Written by Lionir

This might sound quite ridiculous but let me explain how I came to this conclusion by describing three eras. Mind you, this is a think piece, not a research so take that as you will.

I'm not really good at history to be honest so it's likely I'll be wrong in some way but I'll be rather vague.

The Dark Ages

First, let's look back before information was free. During those times, the information was given by authorities (This might've been governments or the Church). Why is this important? Simply put, you weren't alone nor on an equal field. If you were to criticize something in the public, you'd likely be exiled therefore you had to trust them to tell the truth and since this was shared knowledge and there were no alternatives, you were just left with that. There was no action. Until the press and literacy started growing...

The Renaissance

Yes, the invention of the printer is what started it all. With this, information wasn't given by authority anymore, it was not public so it was entirely your choice if you decided to believe it or criticize it. That's not to say that this was always easy but it could be done. Critical thinking sprouting and it all went uphill from there. Thoughts could finally be distributed freely. Or could they?

The Fall

Welcome to the internet, everyone can say anything! This is great, information can be shared more quickly than ever and with little costs compared to the old days of the press. But then something happens, social media is born. At first, this only made things better to the eyes of people, they could easily discuss news and share it.

This is great, isn't it? What's the problem? People stopped going to the news for information, they'd just see what people were sharing. There's nothing wrong with that? Social media became the gateway to information. People started reading the headlines and discussing the information from there. The existence of embeds was the start of the end. You'd likely not see who made the article you skimmed, you'd be more interested in the discussions after this is social media. It's all about your friends.. or is it now?

By trying to keep people entertained on their websites to generate income, social media created another problem : the algorithmic feed. Now, with the rise of social media, they realised they wanted to keep you hooked in and so they created the algorithmic feed. At first, it probably encouraged discussions but with time, it encouraged radicalization, misinformation and yellow journalism.

Someone is typing furiously on their computer. "Are you coming to bed?" asks someone out of frame. "I can't. This is important", they respond. The person out of frame responds "What?". "Someone is WRONG on the internet", they respond.
XKCD #386 licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Woah woah, you're going too fast, why would it do that? Well, first, radicalization because people like to see what they like and if they don't like it, it will lead to xkcd #386 which the algorithm will just see as the article being engaging. Why misinformation? For the same as radicalization, it just pays. Now, yellow journalism? Simple, headlines go viral and then you'll have more visitors. Wait, why do visitors matter? Well, certain newspapers turned to advertising too so they need the clicks.

And that's how we're here where information is free but misinformation reigns supreme.

What can we do?

Sorry for leaving you on a down, I'll be exploring this in a future article where I plan to talk about it more in depth. As the title suggests, you can take that time to think about it, yeah? I promise I'll answer soon and here it is.