The Burden of Posting

Is it a hobby to examine and dissect cognitive bias? Whether it is or not, it’s a hobby I enjoy.

Any event that drives the social media into a frenzy makes for some fantastic field research in cognitive bias and how we manipulate our reality in ways that we consider “truthful” and “correct.” It’s how we attempt to exert influence over ourselves, over others, or over their view of who we are, what we stand for, and how we think. For the most part, the majority of the time? This is done without much care or concern for the actual content of the post; we assume “our people” perceive things generally the way we do. Which is mostly incorrect, but is an outlet for a specific narcissism that these formats rely on (present company, of course, included).

Casual conversation aside, there is very little that can be seen as truth in the context of social media postings, but it is often understood by the reader as something you intended to be completely truthful, with no room for any shades of gray. Those postings you make tell a very one sided, one dimensional story about you, and it’s the one that everyone knows as You, Complete. Most everything is some shade of inaccurate, and biased so that it becomes fiction. Regardless of your actual intent, that fiction does two things well: it sells ads, and it gives anyone paying any attention a whole lot of very private and personal insight about what kind of person you are. The Lingua Bumpersticker of your soul.

Mainly it sells ads; the latter is more for research into selling you more ads. The latter is also fuel for those of us with odd hobbies.

Now, think about the kind of person you are. How does that gibe with what you post? In the modern world of today, these forums are you. They are the you that anyone under 60 assumes is actually you; this is the language being spoken. To approach it carelessly in situations that require care is, well, strange. In situations that require care, care should be applied. This serves your best interest, and it enables a much better engagement with the human portion of your readership. The fidelity of your truth, then, can be carved out over time with the proper care, leaving plenty of space for cat photos and whatever memes 4chan has come up with this week.

Ultimately, it is very obvious that this care in choosing your presentation of your Self is not required by any means. However, it seems that the newest generations of folks live and die by their screens (fact: you’re using a screen right now!) and therefore are heavily influenced by the things these screens contain. While it certainly isn't required, then, it may be in your own best self interest to engage the screens around you with the sort of care that you use when speaking to a very large crowd of people through a very large PA system.

Maybe not, though; when letters died, and language started leaving their mouths and moving to their images, precision was no longer a requisite function of being a member of the social dynamic. All that confirmation bias, “ingroup” bias, neglect of probability, negativity, status-quo bias, projection (this article)…all of the things that make us irrational people make us just as irrational as a data set. Thus, maybe when addressing that crowd with your very large PA, the very same biases would exist. Or not exist; I’m assuming a lot about the importance of communication within electronic social communities. Maybe communication is just a place to hang a targeted ad.

More study is needed, and it will be much enjoyed by the likes of me and by the sorts of people who sell you things. Thankfully on social networks there’s no end to opinions and fury about those opinions, leaving a target rich environment for research. Fun!


Jason Norman is not a writer, social scientist, or particularly educated. He can be reached at blixco at gmail.

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