We do live in the same reality as the Capitol Hill rioters.
Considering most of the people present at the Capitol earlier this month are now labeled as domestic terrorists, I would hope we don’t live in the same sphere of existence. But maybe you don’t quite understand what I’m saying.
The information they ingest, the narratives they believe in, the conversations they have with family and friends, the rules that govern the very nature of their perceived reality is not the same as the one we live.
The first question that comes to mind is how have we allowed political polarization to reach a point in which domestic terrorism seems justified to some groups of Americans? The most common and misleading answer to that question would be the degradation of the reliability of the media. However, after the events at the Capitol, social media has to claim the lion’s share of the blame for the historic boiling point that was Jan. 6.
As we all know, social media can create echo chambers that reinforce peoples’ beliefs about a wide variety of political and social issues. In this way, our favorite apps can be used as pipelines by groups with political agendas to gain followers and support for their cause, whatever it may be.
A 2020 study conducted by various Cornell University researchers concluded that both Facebook and Twitter actively moderate the user experience based on their interaction with certain content.
“Our method quantifies the existence of echo chambers along two main dimensions: homophily in the interaction networks and bias in the information diffusion toward likely-minded peers,” writes researcher Alessandro Galeazzi.
In theory, it is virtually impossible for a Facebook or Twitter user to see an opposing viewpoint on a current issue, as the algorithm simply will not allow it to appear to the user.
Obviously, this creates
clear-cut echo chambers centered around shared narratives of a particular group.
What we saw at the Capitol a few weeks ago was a definite example of how social media has warped the minds of people who frequent the platforms to discuss political issues.
Part of the protesters were believers in the infamous deep-state theory known as QAnon. The theory was birthed on forum site 4Chan, a discussion board social media platform comparable to Reddit.
The theory reasons that hundreds of members of the federal government are currently a part of an elaborate child sex trafficking ring. A mysterious user on 4Chan simply named “Q,” has been posting encrypted messages on the site that suggest the existence of such a thing.
QAnon believers think that this user could be former President Donald Trump, warning the American people of the alleged nefarious acts of politicians and planning to uproot the whole operation during his second term.
In the minds of at least some rioters, they were storming the Capitol in an attempt to stop the confirmation of a “phony” election whose result was going to pause the unearthing of a child sex trafficking ring embedded in our government.
I will say it again, we clearly do not live in the same reality as these misinformed domestic terrorists.
To blame this situation on anything other than the echo-chamber of social media these people are quite clearly trapped in would be missing the point. Sites like 4Chan allow for the existence of ideological pipelines, leading oblivious people down a rabbit hole of echo chambers that slowly radicalizes them.
The breaching of the Capitol by the American people is an unprecedented event because Americans of the past did not have the clear danger that is modern social media.
This is not a partisan issue. Both sides of the political aisle have said pipelines. As illustrated by documentaries like “The Social Dilemma,” and happenings like Mark Zuckerberg’s senate hearings from 2018, social media giants are not interested in the preservation of our information systems.
Next time you log onto your favorite social media app, challenge yourself to seek out opposing viewpoints to your own, as it can help us grow, as well as keep us away from that same echo chamber that the Capitol Hill rioters are still stuck in to this day.