There is a growing consensus that the root of America’s divisiveness problem is social media giant Facebook. The most-viewed documentary in the history of Netflix (and if you haven’t seen it, you really should) is “The Social Dilemma,” which digs deep into how the major social media platforms have grown into the equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. Today there is a story running on CNN Business in which Time Magazine owner Marc Beinoff also points a finger squarely at social media, in particular Facebook, for much of the divisiveness currently tearing America apart.
“Some of these social media companies, especially Facebook, you can see that they don’t really care that their platform is filled with all of this disinformation,” Benioff said. “I own Time and I am held accountable for what is produced on my platform,” Benioff continued, adding that CNN and other media outlets are also held accountable. “In regards to Facebook, they are not held accountable. So they do not have an incentive from the government. That has to change.”
While I don’t disagree that there needs to be some level of accountability for social media outlets, the truth is they are not entirely to blame for the disinformation that spreads and becomes accepted fact through such outlets. As with so many things, there is a deep-seeded underlying cause, one that media outlets like Fox News, Facebook and others simply take advantage of in their relentless pursuit of the almighty dollar.
That cause? There are many, many people in the world who simply aren’t very smart.
When Fox News entertainer Tucker Carlson suggests that Ivermectin, a medication used for parasitic infections in horses, should be taken to treat COVID-19 and people flock their local veterinarian to buy it, Carlson and his Onionesque outlet are only partially to blame for the ensuing shortage of Ivermectin. Carlson knows very well that Ivermectin is not something humans should take, just as Fox News knows that the FDA-approved treatments are the only legitimate ways to protect against the pandemic. We know this because Carlson himself is vaccinated and Fox requires all of its employees to be vaccinated. Carlson is a carnival barker, saying outrageous things because people will flock to hear such lunacy. Intelligent people laugh and shake our heads, but the folks who take that network seriously have bought so much Ivermectin that horse owners are having trouble getting the drug for its actual purpose.
Are Fox and Carlson to blame for the shortage of Ivermectin or the high mortality rates among their target audience? Not exactly. They are merely cynically taking advantage of the gullibility of the people who don’t trust science or health care professionals. Just as we have freedom of religion and speech, we have the freedom to be stupid and act against our own self interest.
In 2006 former US VP Al Gore released a groundbreaking documentary entitled “An Inconvenient Truth” that painted a desperate picture of the human impact on global climate. It wasn’t a new idea, as scientists first started talking about the dangers of climate change as far back as the 1950’s, but it was certainly a red alert for the world. At least, it should have been. Rather than taking immediate action to address the issues we’ve spent most of the ensuing years arguing about the facts. On one side of the argument we had scientists and peer-reviewed research, on the other side we had thinktanks funded by the fossil fuel industry. Hmmmm. Again, we have seen cynical profit-driven shysters being taken seriously in conversations that have drastic and devastating consequences.
Take a look at this clip from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom:
I have shown this clip to my college students by way of giving them a possible topic for research projects, and quite a few have chosen to run with it. I tell them, as I am now telling you, not to take their word for it. Anyone can produce a TV show and say whatever they want to say (See: Fox News). Go do your own research, as I did while watching this show. You’ll find the peer-reviewed science agrees with the conclusions of the fictional EPA spokesman in the show.
We are sitting in a pot of boiling water being cooked to death while the people in charge of the stove argue over the temperature at which water boils. Great.
Is social media helping this situation? Certainly not. Then again, I don’t mistake social media for a new outlet. I use it to keep in touch with friends and family who live all around the world, and it’s a wonderful took for that purpose. Believing that memes constitute news is a mistake made by lemmings who lack the life skill of critical thinking. Is Facebook to blame? No. They, too, are cynically converting the attention of their unsophisticated audience into cash.
Take a moment to look around. We have people investing heavily in non-currencies, spending millions on simplistic cartoons, going thousands of dollars in debt to make their pick-up trucks cool, and injecting themselves with horse medication to treat a virus that’s killing 2,000 unvaccinated people a day in the US alone.
Is it any wonder that big corporations are rushing to cash in our collective stupidity?
It’s disappointing, but it’s not a surprising.