A Decision Making impairment?

Social media is bad. It takes your worst parts — your vanity, your ignorance,                        your credulity — and makes them even worse.  Mark Dunbar* 

So much is being written about social media today, even on social media. This blog is about the influence social media has on personal and political decision making. In writing about  decision making for many years, I often said: “More information = more uncertainty”. Others often said: “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” Herein lies the problem of social media and decision making. Too much information. This is complicated by the addition of misinformation: false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive (dictionary). In good decision making, it is important to distinguish facts from fiction and fantasy. Social media is not a good place to do this.

Many people today would agree that social media is making most of people’s worse parts worse. The problem with social media is not just social media; it is also us. But social media is designed to be addictive — and it is. All of us, have at least some of the worst parts of vanity, ignorance and credulity. This makes decision making difficult even without social media. I have pointed out that our dislike of uncertainty makes us believe what we want to believe. This is credulity. If you have a belief, and you want proof that it is true, social media is there.

Most social media readers are looking for certainty. And that is a good place to find it. It is said that the goal of traditional media, journalism, is objectivity and fairness. This is not said about social media. Decision making is a basic ingredient of democracy. But social media isn’t helpful. Social media pushes us into ideological silos. E J Dione Jr. The theme of political tribalism is played out on social media. Voters follow the media of “their side”. It is probably not desirable or possible to follow all sides of any media. It is more desirable and easier to read what you want to know. People don’t like uncertainty and indecision, so they decide with their credulity, “my side bias”.

Social media won’t go away. Neither will our vanity, our ignorance, our dislike for uncertainty. Or our worst part credulitywhich isn’t new. In 1945 Harold Larrabee wrote in Reliable Knowledge: Man’snatural state is not doubt, but credulity — a combination of suggestibility in the face of whatever is clearly and strongly presented, and the will-to- believe whatever is personally or socially congenial. (congenial = my side bias). I propose a potential remedy: Get acquainted with your credulity and cognitive biases. Overcome your vanity and ignorance with open-mindedness and a natural state of uncertainty — avoiding credulity. This has now become my battle cry. Credulity apparently has always been with us.   

The characteristic of the present age is craving credulity. Benjamin Disraeli. 1800?

  *This blog is a result of my reading, If Social Media Is Making Us Worse, Can We Make It Better? By Mark Dunbar, THE HUMANIST, Jan./Feb. 2019




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