An Incubation Chamber for Bad Ideas

20496106648_7865c3f942_kI deleted my Facebook account years ago. It wasn’t out of an aversion to social media—quite the contrary. I love social media and technology. I spend time each day on Twitter, MSN, various blogs, my Feedly account, etc. Rather, it was the complacent and smug atmosphere that had permeated every part of the site that offended me on some sub-conscious philosophical level.

When Facebook began in the early millennium it presented a virtual interface that allowed young people to meet new people. It was a place to take a chance and explore the world beyond. But that changed some time back when the decade changed. It became less about exploring and socializing and more about manipulating and bragging to your closed circuit of associates—whatever clique or social niche to which you belonged. It became a place for stalking your exes and spying on your co-workers’ personal lives.

Then it became something worse. A podium for the proponents of bad ideas. Facebook fosters bad ideas, by giving people a safe place to spout off un-vetted arguments to a willing and uncritical audience. Ideas that would not make it out of the starting gate but for a modicum of fact-checking or rational questioning. As a result, travesties of critical thinking inflate to behemoths to the tune of applause and accolades of the proverbial choir. It is the antithesis of the scientific method or any kind of free market of ideas—viewpoints are promoted not for their resilience against efforts to prove them false, but rather for the number of “likes” they receive from a select group of similar and like minds. Let that go on for a year or two, and just try and convince a member of said circle he might be wrong—Did I say a year? Six months.

This is why Twitter and Reddit, which encourage the vetting of ideas in public forums, will always fail in their races against Facebook. Others can challenge you on Twitter and Reddit. If you put it out there, you’d better be able to back it up. There is always someone eager to take one up on her assertions. Unfortunately, people don’t like to be challenged. I’m an educator; I can vouch for this.

Now, people have reported that Facebook influenced the recent Presidential election by allowing fake news to proliferate on its site. But isn’t this just an extension of the environment Facebook has cultivated for years? A place where you can go and say what you want to say and hear only that which you want to hear? A place where climate change is a Chinese conspiracy ? A place where you can believe Obama wasn’t born in America without having to face obstacles, such as birth certificates? Isn’t fake news the natural progression of what Facebook has been about for years? People telling their friends and inner circles the information they want to hear and only the information they want to hear? A place to which you can retreat into your worldview without the inconvenience of contradictory opinions or evidence—or critical thinking?

And now one of those bad ideas has festered its way into the White House.