Arash Javanbakht: Break free from the Matrix | Columnists

The promise, the Matrix

Those of us old enough to know what life was like before social media may remember how exciting Facebook was at its inception. Imagine, the ability to connect with old friends we had not seen for decades! Then, Facebook was a virtual dynamic conversation. This brilliant idea, to connect to others with shared experiences and interests, was strengthened with the advent of Twitter, Instagram and apps.

Things did not remain that simple. These platforms have morphed into Frankenstein’s monsters, filled with so-called friends we’ve never met, slanted news stories, celebrity gossip, self-aggrandizement and ads.

The artificial intelligence behind these platforms determines what you see based on your social media and web activity, including your engagement with pages and ads. For example, on Twitter you may follow the politicians you like. Twitter algorithms quickly respond and show you more posts and people related to that political leaning. The more you like, follow and share, the faster you find yourself moving in that political direction. There is, however, this nuance: Those algorithms tracking you are often triggered by your negative emotions, typically impulsivity or anger.

As a result, the algorithms amplify the negative and then spread it by sharing it among groups. This might play a role in the widespread anger among those engaged in politics, regardless of their side of the aisle.


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