The art of bullshit

In this age of constant connectivity, it’s no secret that I check my social media accounts every few hours to update myself on whatever seems to be happening in the world around me. As I scroll down my Facebook news feed, I usually see some photos of friends, a few funny cat videos, and of course, a shared link to an article of some sort. Often intrigued by the title, I click on the link, only to recognize exactly what Nathaniel Barr states — most of the information we spread online is quantifiably “bullshit”.

Professor Nathaniel Barr, Professor of Creativity and Creative Thinking, wrote an article on Quartz defining bullshit as “speech that is designed to impress but lacks a direct concern for the truth”.

As an active participant in a technological world, the amount of bullshit I see on my Twitter timeline and Facebook feed on a daily basis is quite frightening. Many articles that I see being shared are ones regarding topics that are of legitimate concern, such as racism, sexism, issues regarding the LGBTQ community, and more. However, the sources through which these stories are told usually aren’t reliable sources. Through a critical analysis, it is easy to point out flaws in these stories; many lack legitimate facts and sources, and often display an incredible amount of bias.

The question is, then, why are these “obviously untrustworthy” links being shared? Barr argues that “the very nature of the internet may encourage a shallow kind of information processing that facilitates belief in bullshit”. With this statement, he refers to the internet as a tool that people are more consistently relying on in order to access information; the internet increasingly acts as an external memory storage system for a large majority of society’s individuals. In doing so, more and more people tend to accept what they first see as the truth.

Facebook is a nearly perfect tool to establish trust among a network of people. It does this by promoting a few different key aspects. One of these aspects is transparency, which is built through sharing exactly what you see, what you mean, what you know, and even what you don’t know — this emphasizes relatability. Connection is also a key part in building trust; many articles shared on Facebook seem to embody a great deal of knowledge, while presenting these ideas in an easy, accessible way.

Another aspect that Facebook employs is the sense of community. Through building your own relationships in this online forum, a user establishes their own social community amongst which news can then be shared. With the aid of other Facebook users, people are more prone to believing that this news is/should be of more importance to them. Often, this false sense of obligation felt towards reading a certain article is a result of a growing community of intuitive thinkers — also known as those who are more likely to rely on their initial impressions when reasoning.

Barr states that over decades of analysis, people have proven to be “cognitive misers, only thinking hard about things when they must”, which makes us almost psychologically unable to completely refute all stories we see on social media.

This interesting integration of bullshit into our everyday lives definitely says something about the development of our minds in response to the growing development of technology and new media. The ways in which bullshit manipulates us and can even evoke powerful emotions shows us how susceptible we are to new ideas.

Or perhaps it’s a sign that bullshit is more than just a colloquial term — perhaps it’s a form of art within itself.

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