Looking in the mirror: how valuing reason can change gatekeeping

Facebook is still trying to refine its role in the filter bubble. For a company that has such a pervasive influence in our lives, it is a little surprising to see them questioning their role in our consumption of media. Facebook does not have to do this. They have a stronghold on the internet.

Facebook, especially Mark Zuckerberg, is stepping into the role of gatekeeper traditionally held by traditional media outlets. Vanity Fair even described Zuckerberg as “editor-in-chief” in an article titled, “Can Mark Zuckerberg save the world from itself?” The article points out that this is unchartered territory.

It is entirely possible that the honeymoon phase of the internet age is in decline. The initial glory and charm of the world wide web and its democratization of information appear to come with a dark side.

But is Facebook’s approach the right one? Can we continue to count on them to have editorial integrity? What about other internet companies? The efforts of Google and Facebook have taken center stage on this blog, but with the constant shifts of power and influence that define the web that may not always be the case.

Decisions will still get made in the name of profit. Google, for example, is rumored to be releasing a new version of Chrome that will feature some built-in ad blocking based on “acceptable” ad standards. At first blush, that seems great since web ads are annoying. But should Google take a central role in policing a sector they’re so deeply involved in? Facebook is doing the same thing by regulating content.

Facebook and Google’s attempts seem like imperfect solutions. They are indicative of the novel situation that we’re in. We used to have gatekeepers for our media because we didn’t have a choice. But now that anyone can consume information from limitless sources should we continue to count on others to edit what we see?

I say this knowing that Facebook probably has good intentions. However, we are contending with both habit and a need for instant gratification in media consumption. We are used to having gatekeepers, and we are used to having the web at hand whenever we want to use it. It might be hard to break free of the status quo.

It is a complicated problem. One that does not belong solely in the hands of a giant company like Facebook. Trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution is just as problematic as not doing anything about it. Take a look at Facebook’s failures in that regard to see what I mean.

In “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds,” The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out that humans are good at poking holes in the arguments of others but ineffective at doing that to our own arguments. Online filters and bubbles play a role in that confirmation bias.Instead of celebrating the fact that Facebook is looking at themselves to see what they can do better, I wish we would take that responsibility for ourselves. That is easier said than done.

Instead of celebrating the fact that Facebook is looking at themselves to see what they can do better, we should take that responsibility for ourselves.

It is the right environment and time to foster an appreciation for critical thinking and self-examination. The Obama presidency, despite its own problems, is still a halcyon era compared to Trump and his record-breaking low approval rate. Obama did not inspire thousands of people to advocate for science and reason like Trump’s first 100 days in office have done.

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The urge to fix what is broken begins with an appreciation for reason and critical thinking. Reason and critical thinking allow for self-reliance and self-analysis. This leads to people being in charge of the information they consume, not Facebook.

Marching for science is a good sign. A sign of people taking this into their own hands. I hope it continues. We should not count on Facebook when we can man the gates to knowledge for ourselves.


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