—Chaos Monkeys by Antonio García Martínez’
I took this quote to be a concise description of why Facebook has the world so shook up since the populist backlash that won elections in 2016. It’s not just the Russian troll scare or privacy concerns; it’s that social media is a fundamentally new way of consuming the news. And it’s putting the interpretation of the news into the hands of the consumer like never before.
But by empowering consumers to chase their individual whims are we neglecting the power of shared truth? Without shared truth, can a society maintain its focus on a shared vision?
Skepticism is a great power that requires great responsibility. Giving consumers the ability to congregate around specific ideas is an exciting idea on paper but it has backfired in a lot of ways because the idea that everyone is properly equipped to make sense of our ever-increasingly complicated world overlooks human bias towards group-think, paranoia, fear, and whatever other base desires I’m overlooking. To surround yourself so efficiently with the flavor of information that you find comforting and agreeable means that the interesting and surprising stuff gets edited out and you, the consumer who’s being served so well, remains ignorant.
Our culture has a plethora of many myths that seem to represent the apotheosis of what is happening online. If Google is the Library of Alexandria then Facebook is the Tower of Babel—the technology that scatters people to ‘s attention toward their most basic inclinations,
Almost imperceptibly, while we chase these specially curated mass diversions, all shared national experiences except maybe the Super Bowl slowly fade to the periphery. And these sideshows are re-interpreted in so many different ways that any common ground crumbles beneath our feet. That, not Russian cyber-troll harnessing impotent grievances with the status quo, is why Facebook is such a decisive a challenge to democratic order.
As Martínez puts it so well in the afterward to his book, “The post-Enlightment man living in a liberal democracy believes he has a right to an opinion; post-Facebook, he also believes he has a right to his own reality. An online reality that aims to validate his worldview and bends reality to flatter his prejudices.” There is no going back.