The Vicious Cycle formed by Internet Free Press

· Column A: Free Press

· Column B: Facebook

· Column C: “Most of the information we spread online is quantifiably ‘bullshit’

In an ecosystem, plenty of sunshine and water means that plants can grow. Plants provide food for consumers and consumers eat these energy factories to fuel their life force. When consumers die, they decay and offer nutrients to producers, completing the cycle. However, if a producer is polluted, the toxins will accumulation as harmful chemical elements in consumers. Unfortunately, this noxious process is not relegated to the natural world; it’s analogous to social systems and cycles of information. In the 21st century, “bullshit” pollutes the Internet through the free press. In the article “Most of the information we spread online is quantifiably bullshit,” Nathaniell Barr identifies the toxic elements online as “bullshit”; they are superficial, grandiose and meaningless bits of information in an “age of Bullshit” fueled by free press.

A Healthy Ecosystem
A Toxic Ecosystem

Yet still, the public generally views the free press as a symbol of advanced society, allowing people freedom of expression.

How does free press simultaneously form a vicious cycle spreading meaningless “bullshit” then?

Social media platforms such as Facebook, while providing a platform for almost unfettered free speech, are also the harbingers of bullshit. Bullshit can be classified into two categories: the intentional and the unconscious. According to Barr, most intentional bullshit stems from “vanity and hunger for attention.” Users are careless about the content of their posts, paying more attention to the profit and popularity they bring. This mirrors Harry Frankfurt’s statement as mentioned by Barr in which this bullshit “is designed to impress but lacks a direct concern for the truth.”

On Facebook for example, people might post biased articles with slanted facts or a negative movie review without even having watched the film. They capitalize off other people’s love for the movie, mastering audiences’ psychology and need to protect those things precious to them. In doing so, they gain attention by encouraging argument and debate.

Similarly, many people post in order to gain likes, followers or some certification of authority. Thus, they often produce long content without any discernible meaning. Barr refers to this as the “Pseudo-profound”. On the other hand, some “bullshitters” post unconsciously as the free press allows people to share anything instantly, from virtually anywhere. Some of them post information in the form of emotion statuses (“^_^” ) or personal opinions (“This world sucks!”). On Facebook, such posts are often only intended for family and friends but can be seen by the general public. If a Facebook user searches a key term of “hashtag” related to the post, they have access to statuses containing those tags. Both the intentional and unconscious production of bullshit results endless pieces of inaccurate and meaningless information proliferated online, to be absorbed by net citizens.

In consuming bullshit, one of two things happens to consumers. Firstly, they may become “less analytic and intelligent,” making judgements from “initial impressions” only without further investigation. Consumers who do not realize the futility of the information will continuously absorb more and more bullshit as they keep reading the same toxic messages, which accumulate only to re-circulate in the system. They reply with more “bullshit” under already baseless posts, and they blindly click “like” to comments that support their preexisting ideas. The higher the “likes” on ones comment or reply, the more people who read the post. In this way, the “like” function creates a competitive ethos that encourages continuous use and ultimately rewards people for producing bullshit. This leads right back to the production stage, completing the vicious circle.

The Vicious Cycle

Conversely, consumers may react becoming wiser to the game. As they notice the amount of bullshit present, they become more critical of what they see or read. These savvy consumers can “[resist] the temptation to cave to the clickbait and contribute to page views.” They interrupt the cycle of bullshit with potentially thought provoking, meaningful and critical contributions to free press. The vicious can be broken gradually this way. The question then becomes, which of the two ways will you decide to use the free press? Burr proposes that “we should strive to make best use of the internet” and end the vicious cycle.

Break the Cycle