3 User-Submitted News Sites That Create Thought Bubbles
Let's say you've been wronged in some small way. A co-worker makes a snide remark, or takes credit for something that was your idea. Not a big deal, but you talk to a group of your friends about it, and they respond with "Oh, that's bullshit! I can't believe she said/did that! Are you gonna sit back and take that?!? Man, if it were me ..."
And, in their valiant attempts to offer you sympathy, they rile you up to the point where you're now ready to burn the office to the ground out of spite.
"WHO LOOKS REALLY NICE TODAY NOW, CHERYL?"
There's a scientific name for that, and we've mentioned it before -- the law of group polarization. Research shows that people become more extreme in their beliefs the more time they spend thinking or talking about them -- even if no new information is introduced. Just the act of repeating it makes you angrier.
Well, when you get your news from user-submitted news sites, you get that same effect. This is why a conservative one like FreeRepublic.com is still absolutely full of the aforementioned "Obama birth certificate is fake" links, and why the Ron Paul subreddit is full of stories that make it sound like the fringe candidate is on the verge of winning the nomination.
His StarCraft clan's ranking is going to be huge in the primaries.
Going from one to the other is like stepping into an alternate universe, and each one is a tempest in a teapot. Remember that Kony 2012 video that was spammed on every news portal (along with Twitter, Facebook and everywhere else)? That video would get 90 million views on YouTube, show up on the front page of Digg and get more than 7,000 votes on Reddit across many submissions, each submission on each site accompanied by hundreds of user comments. The Internet had never heard of this guy before, had no stakes in the situation at all and, to be frank, couldn't point to his country on a map. But the more we sat around talking about it, the more times we saw that video get linked, and the more we worked ourselves into a frenzy.
Then, the backlash started -- news emerged that the video was misleading, and outright false in places. The guy behind the video got arrested for going on a naked rampage in public, and then that story dominated news portals (and got more than 17,000 votes on Reddit across even more submissions). And thousands of angry or mocking comments.
You need at least two Academy Awards for public masturbation to be "eccentric" and not "dangerously insane."
Again, it was the creation of a zealous opinion on a subject via sheer repetition, with everybody voicing the same opinion over and over, louder and louder. It's yet another type of bubble. An anger bubble.
There are so many such sites on the Internet, representing such specific topics and points of view, that everyone can find their own little niche and dig themselves deeper and deeper into the trenches of whatever cause they latch onto. As one Harvard Law professor puts it, without "unanticipated encounters, involving unfamiliar and even irritating topics and points of view," democracy fails. Or at least it gets really annoying.
"Screw it, I say we go back to a feudalist plutocracy."
"But wait a minute," you might say. "Why do those echo chambers all have to be negative? Maybe a bunch of people are all sitting around somewhere continually reaffirming their belief in the inherent goodness of mankind." Well, the problem is that the Internet has ...
2 Discussion Formats That Encourage Us to Be Negative
Imagine a big adorable pile of sleeping puppies. Six of them, laying there, peacefully, not bothering anyone. Oh, wait, there's only five -- one is now off in the corner, chewing on the power cord for your TV.
Which of the six puppies do you give attention to?
Trick question. You love them all equally and then go buy even more puppies.
Do you congratulate individually each of the five for being quiet and adorable, and then make the sixth stop chewing? No, you ignore the good ones and only smack the chewing one. There's no time to be nice -- he's on the verge of ruining your TV and electrocuting himself. When time is short, we only give the negative feedback, because we assume the good ones will keep doing what they're doing if they don't hear otherwise -- this is why you only seem to hear from your boss when you screw up.
"But when I wasn't sleeping with his wife, do you think he said anything then?!"
The Internet is like that. When you shop, you probably rely on online feedback to avoid a bad purchase. But the feedback skews negative -- people who are satisfied with their purchases usually just go about their lives enjoying their new Flowbee or whatever. They don't think about logging on to Amazon and telling the world about how tight their hair is now. But the people who are dissatisfied -- WATCH OUT. Researchers put it this way:
"As online forums become more populated, for example, customers who are more positive and less involved tend to stick to the sidelines, while customers who are more involved and more critical take their place."
So online feedback tends to be either from people who are being negative or from people who are positive and see that other people are trashing the thing they're positive about. Now they have to speak up, just to try to negate the dickishness. One way or the other, the loudest, most negative people dictate the discussion. You've probably also seen this phenomenon in every single political discussion that has ever taken place online.
Or any Mass Effect 3 discussion.
Take, for example, Facebook groups. We're talking about biased, like-minded people who specifically created their group in order to discuss their agenda. For the sake of argument, let's say the group was "We Want the Tupac Hologram to Make Out With the Freddie Mercury Hologram." So you know that some Tu-Fred love haters are going to make their way into the group and take over the conversation. In fact, researchers found that in a real political Facebook group, 17 percent of the posters were opposed to the very group they were participating in. They're just there to start shit, because they just couldn't leave it alone.
And here's the other thing: They found that, of the 66 people who participated in the overall discussion, it was about 10 people who dominated (their posts made up 59 percent of the whole conversation). It may not even be that the group is all that extreme -- it's just that one dude whose avatar is a picture of the Declaration of Independence. But -- and here's maybe the most corrosive part of this -- from then on, your impression of that side of the debate will be based entirely on those few loudmouths. Tell us you've never taken the opposite side in an argument purely because the other side were being such dicks.
"If I'm louder than you, that means I'm right!"