I read an interesting article from The Guardian yesterday about Millennials, Facebook, and confirmation bias. Citing a Pew Research Center study, the article looks at Facebook’s manipulation of confirmation bias: when people only accept information that affirms a pre-existing belief and any contrary ignore evidence. It states, “Unlike Twitter – or real life – where interaction with those who disagree with you on political matters is an inevitability; Facebook users can block, mute and unfriend any outlet or person that will not further bolster their current worldview.”
While 40% of those in the study who self-identify as “consistent liberals” say they have blocked or unfriended someone over political disagreements, the issue is much larger. We are actively cultivating a society that cannot and will not tolerate an opposing point of view.
Not only have we made it easy to ignore conflicting viewpoints, but we have also facilitated movements to eliminate them (and the people who hold them) from our consciousness altogether. The very idea of universities banning historical content that some may find offensive precludes us from challenging the very ideas that bind us together as humankind.
“Microaggressions,” “oppression studies,” and word-purging anything beginning with the letters “his” as a gender-binary assignment are all emerging as ways to create ideological conformity. Ignoring historical truths doesn’t make what we want to believe a reality, it makes us shrouded in the delusion that if we don’t acknowledge something, it doesn’t exist.
Isn’t that behavior precisely what keeps tyrants in power? How can we address present day crimes against humanity without studying those that existed in the past? What if the Allies clicked the “block this person” button on Hitler? This enabling of confirmation bias is a very dangerous proposition.
In her OpEd in today’s New York Times, Ruth Bader Ginsberg talks about her job as a Supreme Court Justice for the past 23 years:
“Because the court grants review dominantly when other jurists have divided on the meaning of a statutory or constitutional prescription, the questions we take up are rarely easy; they seldom have indubitably right answers.”
She goes on to explain, “Yet, by reasoning together at our conferences and, with more depth and precision, through circulation of, and responses to, draft opinions, we ultimately agree far more often than we divide sharply.” (my emphasis)
If tomorrow’s leaders continue to delete people and ideas with which they do not agree, how will they build the competency to “reason together” with their peers to deeply and precisely respond to each other’s opinions? Simply put, they won’t.
Notorious R.G.B goes on: “Despite our strong disagreements on cardinal issues — think, for example, of controls on political campaign spending, affirmative action, access to abortion — we genuinely respect one another, even enjoy one another’s company. Collegiality is crucial to the success of our mission.”
Collegiality requires the ability to entertain ideas with which one doesn’t necessarily agree. To ignore, block, and delete dissenting opinions then, is not collegial, and can have disastrous consequences.
The Guardian article concludes, “the onus, then may be on millennials – and all Facebook users – to proactively seek out news sources outside of their ideological comfort zone.” While that may be true, why would Millennials, the future of civilization, be inclined to do so?
If we continue to facilitate the elimination of information that is potentially uncomfortable and offensive, eliminate exposure to views that oppose our own, and ignore people who hold opposing beliefs and opinions, we will unravel the very fabric of what makes a diverse, free-thinking society great.
In essence, the behavior will have the opposite of its intended effect.