Why the social media feed is destructive

published on 04 August 2021
Photo by <a href=Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash"/>
Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

In our previous blog, we set out our vision and north star. For the next several episodes, we’ll take a look into some of the pain points that we’re trying to alleviate in online discussions.

The first one we’d like to talk about is the ubiquitous social media feed and why it’s destructive.

1. ‘Following people’ doesn’t work

It is comforting to be surrounded by like minded people. It feels warm and cosy. It is reassuring and sometimes creates a sense of belongingness. We get that.

But it also leads to echo chambers.

The main reason behind this is what sociologists call “homophily” which is the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with others with similar socioeconomic traits, political, or religious beliefs.

In a distributed social network where following people is the basis of each individual’s feed, homophily takes root quite naturally. According to a Sep 2020 research paper by Chris Blex and Taha Yasseri, even positive algorithmic bias cannot stop fragmentation in homophilic networks. This means that no matter how much Facebook and Twitter try to algorithmically adjust our feeds, we still end up with highly fragmented bubbles.

Therefore, echo chambers are an inbuilt phenomenon of social media networks.

In a feed where you connect with friends or share your latest holiday photos, this is not a massive problem as these are intended for your bubble anyways, but when people start to discuss ideas, policies and frameworks, the tunnel vision created by echo chambers becomes a critical issue.

This is why topics are the genesis of all conversations on Multytude.

We do not have a people-based feed. Everything starts with a topic, and the resulting discussion then includes all people who want to contribute to it, thereby exposing you to all sides of an argument — even those you may not like — but we promise there is value in this.

A lot of research shows us why taking multiple perspectives inherently results in better outcomes.

  • According to this June 2006 study, the number of perspectives used in defining problems was significantly correlated with the number of solutions generated later.
  • According to this Scientific American article, socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.

For those discussions that matter, why are we settling for the tunnel vision of the social media feed when we can do so much better?

2. Great ideas get lost in the land of ‘Load More’

We are probably the first generation which has banished ‘focus’, we don’t allow ourselves to stay quiet and pay attention. Pull up any social media app and start checking the day’s trends. What happens is you ‘scroll through’ them. You don’t — and actually can’t — follow them in a logical manner. They are just a list of ideas, not connected, only time stamped.

This feed of unconnected ideas, coupled with the need to ‘load more’, disrupts our thinking patterns.

This is why we provide focus on one opinion at a time on Multytude.

Being able to read all opinions about a given topic one by one allows us to digest each one and form our opinion without distraction.

We’re not the only ones who advocate spending less time scrolling through what others declare on social media. Cal Newport urges us to be more intentional about it in general.

Great works and ideas are born out of this process of focused idea interchange. They get lost now; don’t you keep scrolling up and down each time you check social media for fear of not losing anything that’s interesting as the app’s and your finger’s moving speed decide which ones you should pay attention to and form an opinion about?

3. Calmer but powerful voices are not heard

Current social media environment rewards loud voices and reaction, instead of contemplation, which leads to toxicity. Online disinhibition is one of the reasons behind this behaviour as dissociative anonymity (in addition to other factors) allows some people to act out more intensely and violently online than they normally would in person.

We have given much thought to ideally eliminating, but at least decreasing, the amount of toxicity on Multytude.

First, we will only welcome real people with real identities to put forward their ideas — be it in a serious discussion on public health policy or which movie should receive the best Oscar in editing.

Second, we will introduce specific mechanisms, one of which is a machine learning based tool for our users to check their opinions’ level of inflammatory language so that they become aware of the perception and impact of their language on the conversation even before they post.

Regrets are testaments to ‘having lived’ for most of us, but our online footprint will draw a different picture of ourselves as a generation. We don’t claim to wipe out all the inflammatory language, us vs them with well thought out mechanisms on Multytude, but we are confident that our users together with our tools will help calmer reflections to prevail.

We are on a journey building a platform which helps great ideas to be discovered, incentivises well thought out and backed up material, supports a healthy flow of conversation and reconnects us to our prefrontal cortex which likes to play chess.

Join us.

P.S. If we missed anything that really bugs you about online conversations, we want to hear it! We’re always looking out for other like minded people to build something better, so please shout out via squad@multytude.com. We’re listening.

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