I was watching this video of a Google Talk by Max Stossel recently. It’s a bit long by internet standards, and his poetic style might take a minute to get used to, but it’s well worth thinking about. Even if you only watch the first ten minutes, do it. (But really, set some time aside to watch it all.)
Within the first ten minutes, Max reveals what he figured out as a social manager for big brands. That getting, and keeping, the attention of social media users was a simple matter of giving them more of what they already thought, and how Facebook and other social media platforms are basically organizing their algorithms to do the same thing. On one hand, that’s why things seem to be getting more and more extreme, on both sides, and we all seem to be living in our own echo chambers. On the other hand, it also serves as an important reminder of just what media companies, including social media companies, have become. The main interest of media companies is not to inform, challenge, or even question. The main goal is to get your attention and keep it for as long as possible. That’s it. They are almost all advertising supported, and advertising only pays if you can get people to see it.
If I can’t get anyone to visit my website, or watch my program, or download my podcast, I’m not going to make any money from advertisers. The money comes from getting attention so that I can show you ads. The easiest way to get your attention and keep you involved with my content, regardless of the medium, is to tell you things you already agree with. The quickest way I can get you to share that content with your friends? Tell you something outrageous about the people don’t agree with.
We’ve allowed advertising supported media, and social media is nothing but advertising supported media, to manipulate us into paying attention, and hearing ideas because they keep telling us what we want to hear. Not what we need to hear, not even the unbiased truth, but what we want to hear so that we’ll continue to scroll through our newsfeed to see more of what we already agree with.
This is dangerous. Put down the smartphone, get out of the echo chamber, and go talk to real people with different ideas from your own. You might just learn something.
And if you’re going to share something, share something that challenges people to think for themselves, instead of being outraged because they don’t agree with you.