More on the stuff driving us crazy

Click on the image to listen to the podcast.

Click on the image to listen to the podcast.

More in my quest to increase awareness of, and prompt discussion about, the ways that social media and other apps that are desperate for our attention are driving America mad — and leading to such unprecedented dysfunction as the presidential election of 2016, and the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol…

Any of y’all listen to Kara Swisher’s podcast, Sway? She had a good one last week with Sasha Baron Cohen. Yeah, it had some fun Borat stuff in it, but the main focus (for me, anyway) was on his ongoing crusade against Facebook. I recommend listening to it. To give you some of the flavor, here’s an excerpt from a speech he gave on the subject more than a year ago:

A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet – this cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.

I believe it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies. Last month, however, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook delivered a major speech that, not surprisingly, warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his. Well, some of these arguments are simply absurd. Let’s count the ways….

You can read the whole speech here. And I recommend listening to the podcast — at the very least, you get to here Cohen speaking, for once, with his own North West London accent.

Cohen hasn’t cooled off on Zuckerberg since then. To quote a headline in The Hill right after the election, “Sacha Baron Cohen celebrates Trump loss, calls for Zuckerberg to go next: ‘One down, one to go’.”

That’s one thing. Here’s another…

Ross Douthat dug into the problem a bit in his column today:

No problem concerns journalists and press-watchers so much these days as the proliferation of conspiracy theories and misinformation on the internet. “We never confronted this level of conspiracy thinking in the U.S. previously,” Marty Baron, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, told Der Spiegel in a recent interview. His assumption, widely shared in our profession, is that the internet has forged an age of false belief, encouraged by social media companies and exploited by Donald Trump, that requires new thinking about how to win the battle for the truth.

Some of that new thinking leads to surprising places. For instance, my colleague Kevin Roose recently reported that some experts wish that the Biden administration would appoint a “reality czar” — a dystopian-sounding title, he acknowledged, for an official charged with coordinating anti-disinformation efforts — as “the tip of the spear for the federal government’s response to the reality crisis.”

Meanwhile, my fellow Opinion writer Charlie Warzel recently explored the work of the digital literacy expert Michael Caulfield, who argues that the usually laudable impulse toward critical thinking and investigation is actually the thing that most often leads online information-seekers astray. Instead of always going deeper, following arguments wherever they seem to lead, he suggests that internet users be taught to simplify: to check arguments quickly against mainstream sources, determine whether a given arguer is a plausible authority, and then move on if the person isn’t….

He went on to say he has his doubts about the “reality czar” thing. I’m with him there. Later in the piece he made some points some of us may also find dubious, but it’s an interesting piece, and I’m glad to see him address the problem…

9 thoughts on “More on the stuff driving us crazy

  1. Ken

    Yes, the internet serves as an accelerator. But it accelerates tendencies that preexisted the internet.

    So let’s not lay too much blame on Facebook et al. Journalists themselves must take part of the blame as well. Here’s Journalist Matt Bai reflecting on the Gary Hart/Donna Rice episode and how it changed American politics:

    “If Nixon’s resignation created the character culture in American politics, then Hart’s undoing marked the moment when political reporters ceased to care about almost anything else. By the 1990s, the cardinal objective of all political journalism had shifted from a focus on agendas to a focus on narrow notions of character, from illuminating worldviews to exposing falsehoods. If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would be: ‘We know you’re a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it.’

    As an industry, we aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions. As the former senator Bob Kerrey, who has acknowledged participating in an atrocity as a Navy Seal in Vietnam, told me once, ‘We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and there’s a tendency to think that we are.’ That quote, I thought, should have been posted on the wall of every newsroom in the country, just to remind us that it was true.

    Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters’. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial. It drove a lot of potential candidates with complex ideas away from the process, and it made it easier for a lot of candidates who knew nothing about policy to breeze into national office, because there was no expectation that a candidate was going to say anything of substance anyway.”

  2. bud

    A far more dangerous problem than Facebook is the Catholic Church. I ran across an article earlier this week that one of the archdiocese was encouraging people not to get the COVID vaccine because it was derived from the cells of aborted fetuses.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “A far more dangerous problem than Facebook is the Catholic Church.”

      I really enjoy this blog for all of bud’s pearls of wisdom. I mean, it’s really what keeps me coming back. I just can’t wait to see what he’s got to say about things. I really didn’t think he would top his comment about planned parenthood being one of the best organizations ever, but there you have it. 🙂

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Wait a second, Bryan — you’re not turning into a Papist or something, are you?

        By the way, if you’re interested in anything serious on that topic, here’s a piece that was in the Jesuit magazine, America: “‘Pastorally dangerous’: U.S. bishops risk causing confusion about vaccines, ethicists say.”

        There’s a LOT of great stuff in that magazine. I’m so glad I recently subscribed.

        On a related matter, my friend Steve Millies (whom I’ve mentioned here before; he’s head of The Bernardin Center at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago) tweeted this a couple of days back:

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Two more pieces in America that I just saw while going to get that link, and now need to find time to read:

          An open letter to Joe Manchin, a pro-life Democrat and the most powerful senator in Washington

          Nobody at the Vatican wants Pope Francis to go to Iraq right now. Why is he so set on going?

          That latter one is sort of out of date now that he’s there (and America is covering), but I’ve been meaning to read anyway. I’m concerned about this trip. With all the conflict in the church right now — particularly the American church — I don’t want to see my guy Francis going to dangerous places.

          I know; you thought Joe Biden was “my guy.” Pay attention, y’all! Joe is my main man in this country; Francis is my main man in Rome.

          Ya gotta have a guy in Rome, you know…

      2. bud

        Let me elaborate. Facebook in and of itself is not dangerous. Yet Brad goes on and on about them as if they were purveyors of pure evil. Facebook at its core is mostly about sharing photos of grandkids and the delicious cake you just baked. But like the Gadsden flag some bad actors have hijacked it for evil intent.

        On the other hand many religious organizations are based in bizarre and dangerous beliefs that can result in great harm. The attempt to discourage folks from taking the COVID vaccine is just the latest outrage from the Catholic cult. My loathing of the Catholic Church is not some irrational blathering. It’s based in observable facts. Even Brad got onto the Catholic clergy for supporting Trump. Rather than be snarky maybe people can learn a thing or two from a perspective that is willing to question institutions that conventional has always regarded as beyond reproach. That includes churches, the military, capitalism and federalism. All these and more should be held accountable as needed and treated with a sort of reverence. Bryan and Brad seem incapable of this type of open mindedness.

        1. Bill

          “The greatest tragedy in the history of Christianity was neither the Crusades nor the Reformation nor the Inquisition, but rather the split that opened up between theology and spirituality at the end of the Middle Ages.”
          Hans Urs von Balthasar

  3. Bill

    now I can order in Latin
    make ’em au gratin Joe
    I’m an old altar boy
    that’s why I’m so depressed
    I never got the rest of the dream
    just the ritual
    now I’m habitual
    majoring in crimes
    that are unspeakable
    cause I’m an old altar boy
    that’s what happened to me…

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