Our collective narrative has become primarily shaped by tweets, memes, captions, and headlines.
Sure, there are many people who continue to read The Times and The Post and The Journal. But this is not how the average American is absorbing the current world story today.
There was a period of time in which people turned to social media to source their news. They’d stumble upon articles on Facebook that had been shared by friends. The Facebook algorithm, capitalizing on the psychological lever of confirmation bias, fed people particular posts to maximize engagement while consequently creating personalized echo chambers of distorted perspective.
While this echo chamber effect is still alive and well, people have “evolved” from using social media as a means of sourcing news to using social media as a means of consuming news. With so much information so readily accessible, it’s become difficult for people to rationalize investing the time in journalism when their attention is held captive by infinite social feeds.
I’ll certainly admit to falling into this trap myself at times…“reading” the news each morning by scrolling through tweets or headlines in Google News…”wrapping my head” around a particular issue by glimpsing at captions and memes on Instagram.
This is a problem for three reasons…
- Issues, in general, are multidimensional. It’s incredibly difficult to communicate complex issues in a few hundred characters. Perspectives on these issues therefore inevitably become partisan when they are communicated in such short form.
- It’s very challenging to build rational arguments in a few hundred characters. Those who craft tweets, memes, captions, and headlines therefore tend to use emotional rather than rational means of persuasion. This is dangerous because our emotional mind is much more vulnerable to manipulation than our rational mind.
- Quotes are often pulled out of context and inserted into these tweets, memes, captions, and headlines- misleading people to perceive a meaning other than that which was intended by the quoted.
These three factors have created an environment of deep polarization, coupled with a widespread surface-level understanding of political, social, and economic issues.
I would argue that this is one of the most dangerous trends we collectively face today.
It does, however, have a silver lining. This bite-sized nature of news allows us to consume a greater breadth of perspective if we actively choose to seek it out. This breadth of perspective may not be fed to us by an algorithm. It may not necessarily reinforce what we feel comfortable believing. It will, however, equip each of us to reopen the doors of true conversation that seem to have been closed over the past few years. It will enable us to formulate a unique perspective based on collective knowledge and personal values…as opposed to one that is based on the tweets, memes, captions, and headlines that happen to make their way into our digital orbit.
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Photo: Taken in Goblin Valley SP, Utah