The Internet is conspiring to make extremists of us all. Both Google and Facebook try to tailor the things we see ‘to our interests’, thereby paring back things they think that we don’t want to see.
… the fuck?
As we’ve all seen, Facebook defaults to Top News. There’s been oodles of recent changes that seem intent on forcing you to filter and limit your content, with the Pig de Résistance landing today – you’re forced to use Top News (which nobody I know likes), and every.single.friend on your list? You don’t see all their stuff by default – you see some of their stuff by default. I’m not sure how this limiting of my world is supposed to make my life better, but I resoundingly disapprove.
One of my friends argues that this and Google+ (which I cannot use because, oh deity, things are out of order and it makes my OCD flare up and I start panicking that I’ve missed Stuff™®) is okay, because it’s like a forum. I have to counter-argue – with a forum, there’s a nice shiny ‘New!’ tag pointing both new threads, as well as ones with new posts. You are significantly less likely to miss anything because hey, you can tell at a glance what is new and what is old. You cannot with social networks as they stand now, and that just really… really isn’t cool.
I will, amazingly, avoid picking on lists. I don’t use them and I don’t like them ’cause oh… I’m old enough on the net that I’m absolutely not bothered by person x seeing content meant for persons y. If anything, I prefer to post to all because I like cross-pollinating my worlds; if not noticing another gamer in a school alumni list, I’d be a friend short today! But I understand that it’s more oriented towards newer netizens – they’re not experienced enough to know this, don’t process that you should probably NEVER put those ‘funny’ party pictures online (they’ll get to your boss anyways), and it looks like a ‘safe’ way to portion off sections of life from each other. I’ll disagree, but if it gets more people online and communicating, I’ll forgive it.
Now, what does this have to do with extremism, you might ask? Well, it’s all about feedback cycles, really. If you’re searching for ‘Bob Dobbs is God‘ with some frequency and Google is filtering out anything that disagrees, well, that reinforces that you’re right, doesn’t it? If Facebook tailors things to reinforce that you’re right and takes away friends with dissenting opinions, well, nobody disagreed so you’re extra right! Which means that when you decide to force everyone to smoke a pipe that you were obviously completely right because there was nothing disagreeing and you are the god of knowing all that is right and good in the world. Just wait and see Maw, I’m the best! Anyone who disagrees with me is stupid and deserves to be abused!
Think about it for a bit, and you might sheepishly admit to having moments like this (if not specifically about Bob Dobbs). Where we should all actively seek dissenting opinions in order to have fuller, more accepting world views, most people prefer to find people who agree on all things because that’s ‘what friends do’. And sure, we all have things where we brook no disagreement – for example I’m pretty emphatically against the classism that is being bred by the ‘rightful’ drug testing of welfare recipients because I find it flat-out hateful. I didn’t at the very first – it took hearing multiple opinions from my friends before I formed an opinion that I was satisfied with. But I suspect that with this sort of ‘tailoring’, we’re going to see more and more people so convinced that they are emphatically right and correct that we risk entering a sad world where there is no discussion. I hope it doesn’t get that bad, but for now? I’m going to be wary… and try to do my best to keep up with all the glorious and differing opinions from my wide range of friends.