Saturday, 9 June 2018
Friday, 8 June 2018
Social Networks are great. But not the place to get your News. Even though some of their home pages are called news feed.
Nuance Rarely Goes Viral
People tend to share and up vote things that resonate on an emotional level and confirm an existing worldview. In politics, this means jokes and headlines that “prove” the other side is wrong. In the tech ecosystem, it tends to be articles that “prove” the company you don’t like is bad.
There are exceptions, of course. But this is a very real pattern.
It’s too bad, because stories like this are rarely useful. Stories that someone has put a lot of work into, that they are rightly proud of, barely attract an audience. Mean while, quick stories that have an emotionally resonant headline spread far and wide, quickly collecting hundreds of thousands of views.
An article being emotionally resonant doesn’t mean it’s bad. But writers can’t cover every useful subject this way, and sometimes trying to do so is distracting. It’s hard to be fully informed reading only articles that totally ‘own’ one side or another.
Algorithms Know What You’ve Been, Not What You Want To Be
There’s a difference between the person you are and the person you want to be. Social media algorithms don’t acknowledge that.
This means these systems end up encouraging your worst habits, without you even realising it. Say you think that unconfirmed gossip about public figures isn’t helping you learn more about the world, or making you a better person. And yet, you sometimes click them. That’s relatable, right?
But every time you click a gossipy headline, you’re teaching an algorithm that you like those sorts of articles, which means you’re going to see those sorts of articles more often. This in turn gives you more opportunity to click those sorts of articles, and continue teaching the algorithm how much you like them. At no point will a social network ask you whether this is the person you aspire to be—they’ll just continue to quietly encourage what you yourself might feel is a bad habit.
Social networks are picking up on our worst habits, encouraging us to continue in those bad habits, and telling us it’s because that’s who we really are.
Social media algorithms don’t know about your aspirations. They only know about what you’ve done in the past.
You’re Missing Out On Good Stuff
Stop me if you’ve said this before: “the media” isn’t covering an issue that’s important to you. Sometimes that’s true, which sucks, but often the media is covering that issue. It’s just that the story isn’t getting a lot of likes, shares or retweets, and isn’t showing up on your news feed.
Major media publications write about a variety of topics, but a lot of the most important information is too dry to ever go viral. And if you get all your news from social network, you’ll never see it.
Don’t Quit Social Networks, But Get News Somewhere Else
Again: I am not proposing that you give up on social media. It’s a great source of entertainment, and even a useful tool at times.
Instead, I suggest building a different habit for staying informed. Find some way to regularly see a broad cross-section of headlines about a variety of subjects. Stumble upon new ideas. And even better, stumble across those ideas in a forum where commenting and sharing isn’t as big a thing.
Here are a few suggestions I have for doing this:
- Find a few media organizations you trust and visit their homepage regularly. You’ll see a wide cross-section of news on a variety of topics, curated by human editors instead of machines.
- Learn how to use RSS. You can add the feeds for a few news organizations you trust and see every headline from them, instead of just the few stories that happen to go viral. You’ll be surprised how much you’re missing out on.
- Flipboard https://flipboard.com/
- Google News just had a major update, and it’s a great way to browse articles about any topic from multiple reputable news sources, including local ones. Give it a try.
- Last but certainly not least try out my old bosses Newsletter Cool Conversations. A very good source of daily stories that effect us all.