One of the most popular arguments we hear, and one I’ve made myself, is that to truly stay informed, and avoid living in the bubble of our own political bias, we need to make sure we are getting information from a variety of sources, including ones we may not agree with.
This study seems to be telling us that isn’t enough, and it can easily be manipulated. If I read an opposing viewpoint, and there’s no reward for doing so, I’m unlikely to really be influenced by it, but if I read an opposing viewpoint and get rewarded for it, I’m more likely to change my mind.
Now, remember that emotional contagion we might get from social media? What if I shared one side of a political view, and got rewarded by the algorithms or whomever with lots of likes and comments, and the post got shared a whole bunch, but posts from the other side, got none of that? Which side am I more likely to agree with? Right, the one that I got better grades on. Not because it’s true, better, or more accurate, but because I am rewarded for thinking that way. Rewarded the way I’ve been my whole life, since I was a little boy, from the first time my parents wanted me to behave a certain way, all the way through my school years, and for all of my career.
How hard would that be to fight against? Almost impossible, I’d say. How easy would it be for social media to do it, either the companies themselves, or large groups of users?
How does that influence what we do see on social media?