A lot has been said recently about Facebook and other social networks, and how selection bias in conjunction with their algorithms are creating “bubbles.” The basic premise is simple — people associate with others who confirm their views and thus create an echo chamber.
This is a problem for the future of free thought, which should be challenged, refined, and tested by others in the civic arena. That being said, I think we’re spending too much time talking about the platforms that create “bubbles” and not enough time addressing the root problem — that people are choosing to ignore anything contrary to their views.
In fact, people are so averse to taking in views that challenge their established beliefs that they’ll avoid contrary arguments, even if you’d pay them:
The study gave participants two options: they could read an article about same-sex marriage that matched their own perspective, or they could read an article about same-sex marriage that contradicted their views on the subject. They were told that if they selected the article with which they disagreed, they would be entered in a drawing to win $10. But if they selected the more comforting, self-affirming article, they would only stand to win $7.
“You’d think everyone would want to win more money, right?” wrote Vox’s Brian Resnick in his write-up of the study. Resnick is right—I did think that.
As it turns out, a solid majority of participants—a whopping 63 percent—would rather read the article they already agreed with, even if it meant winning less money.
This is frightening to me. The free exchange of speech, including speech that challenges our core principles, is good for our country and good for the individual. In college, I was confronted every time I made a conservative argument, in class or in public. This didn’t crush me or demoralize me. It helped me craft logical arguments of my own, and in some cases forced me to tweak or adjust my views based on new information.
Now, in the age of the “safe space” and the “trigger warning,” we demand our views remain unchallenged, as if our politics define who we are. This is unfortunate, and explains the vitriol we see in today’s politics.
Honestly, I think it’s because we prefer not to humanize the other side. After all, most common-day progressives believe what they do because they think their views will help greater humanity. I would argue against that, point by point, and they would challenge me.
Alas, we’re not getting the chance much anymore. It’s easier to build a bunker, call the other side evil, and never analyze why you believe what you believe. Folks don’t want to be made uncomfortable, even if you pay them.