Take, for example, Facebook’s now-infamous manipulation of 700,000 users’ News Feeds. What say you? Outrage or no?
If you are outraged, are you more or less outraged than you were by the Hobby Lobby decision? By the bridge collapse in Brazil? By the current situation in Gaza?
When new petitions arrive from Avaaz or Change.org, do you respond -- assuming you respond to petitions at all -- based on how you feel about that particular topic in isolation, or do you factor in how many other recent petitions bear your signature? Do you engage your moral indignation according to a vague sense of relativity?
And when that moral indignation is activated, do you temper it? Investigate? Research? Develop nuance? Do you check the source, the date? Or do you unleash it, full throttle, subtleties be damned?
It is certainly tempting to do so. A Facebook rant -- whether or not Facebook itself is the offender in question -- will almost certainly be rewarded with Likes and comments, and the more opinionated the rant the better. Never mind that so much of the information we receive online comes via filter bubbles we’re not even aware of. (Yes, I see the snake eating its tail here: our information about the experiment Facebook conducted, which was effectively an experiment about the effects of filter bubbles, arrives via filter bubble.)
Never mind that we have proven ourselves, over and over again, to be simple creatures seeking only reinforcement of what we already know, rather than an objective truth. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer said, it doesn’t interest me whether the story you are telling me is true.
We probably should be outraged at Facebook’s latest experiment. The company certainly deserves it, notwithstanding the questions about the methodology of the experiment.
But as we heap scorn and disgust upon the social network, we should also be asking how well we really know ourselves. Can we be confident that our moods are our own? Would it really be so surprising to learn that we are deeply affected by those around us? And can being conscious of that tendency arm us with the ability to control it?
Doesn’t the immense variability in quality and veracity of the information we see online every day demand that we become ever-more vigilant of our own behavioral biases? The more data we get via the Internet, the more important it is to understand where it comes from, and the role our own motivations play in selecting content and engaging with it. We need to bring our subconscious reactions into conscious awareness, there to decide whether we like what we see.
It is easier to be angry at Facebook than it is to explore how we feel about being so easily manipulated. It’s easier to be angry at Facebook than it is to question why we don’t just stop sharing personal information. It’s easier to be angry than to accept that we are nowhere near as in control of our behavior as we think we are.
It is easier. But that doesn’t mean it’s better. Don’t let me influence your reaction, though. It’s up to you to decide for yourself.