Social proof, post-factual democracy

Another good one by Copenhagen-based professor of philosophy Vincent F Hendricks – recently labelled ‘the voodoo child of social media criticism’ (by me, a couple of secs ago, but let’s cut the details). Railing against social proof again. This time: Democracy in danger.

Check out this great piece on ‘likes’ and ‘upvotes’, infostorms and post-factual democracy. Or read my absurdly abbreviated version.

Here’s how it goes. Hendricks’s article in five steps, a) to e).

a) Humans are easily influenced by others. We’re a bit dumb sometimes. It’s called herding effect. Some people even imitate prominent suicides (ha, can you explain that, Darwin?) Hendricks:

Honestly, how many of us don’t just rely on what the internet says about some government ruling rather than looking at the original document?

b) In our brave new new media world, you and your PR-agency can give opinion X a kickstart by upvoting it right from the start. And then popularity generates more popularity. No matter how silly or unbalanced or opportunistic opinion X is. Herding 2.0, in other words. The tendency, at least, was recently demonstrated in an experiment related in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal SCIENCE. Honestly.

50 million Elvis fans

50 million not lonesome tonite. They’re RIIIIIGHT (shriiiiieek!) This is what I found checking around for social proof. Quite interesting examples from bunnyfoot.

c) This is a problem. 1) Because kickstart-upvoting is, er, not not done by political campaigners, spin-doctors etc. 2) because there are fewer and fewer correctives the more we rely on crowd-based opinion generation. Hendricks:

Relying more and more on social media, crowd-based opinion generators and other online “democratic” rating, comment or information acquisition systems not only makes such side-tracking possible and more likely to occur; it also increases the numerical reach of the spreading of false beliefs, be that intentional or not. This is known as an infostorm.

d) We might just get a new brand of politician, as a consequence. In fact, we might have it already: Post-factual democracy. Hendricks:

Infostorms may be generating a new type of politics: the post-factual democracy. Facts are replaced by opportune narratives and the definition of a good story is one that has gone viral. Politics is simply about maximising voter support.

e) This is, once again, er, slightly problematic. Because, and despite postmodernist claims to the contrary, …

… what is viral is not necessarily true, and what is true is not necessarily viral. Maximising votes does not require facts, but then again voter maximisation does not add up to robust democracy. If democracy doesn’t have access to reliable sources of information and instead relies on narratives and social influence then there is no way of distinguishing between junk evidence and facts. Without the ability to make this distinction we may be welcoming the post-factual democracy. Not a pretty picture. (Hendricks)

Moral I: Elections coming up in Sweden. Check your politicians for post-factuality-factor. It’s fun! One-issue-politicians are easiest.

Moral II: Can someone start to grow more socially awkward, bulldog-minded, question-asking-, fact-checking old-school-journalists, please?

Call to Action I: Please go to http://www.theconversation.com, give Vincent a like and comment favourably. So people begin to think he’s right. It’s called social proof, hehehe.

P.S.: Elvis’s hips don’t lie.

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