Hell is other people

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (1973)

By now it’s old news to note how human nature has been hijacked and exploited by social media platforms. Auditors have recently raised concerns about Facebook becoming a sort of “radicalization engine” whose algorithms can drive people toward “self-reinforcing echo chambers”.

I’m willing to bet that upon hearing this news, however, most people will react in a smug and self-satisfied “I told you so” kind of way. That’s because the natural impulse is always to assume that it’s other people who are susceptible to these forces, that it’s people on the other side of the political/ideological spectrum who are becoming radicalized within echo chambers. People almost never scrutinize their own culpability.

But it isn’t just the other side. It’s anyone who uses any social media platform (even Linkedin), regardless of their personal or political opinions.

It’s everyone. It’s you. It’s me.

I sometimes look at Twitter, but I don’t follow anyone because I don’t want to get trapped in an echo chamber. I make an effort to seek out balanced sources, even from those people whose views I vehemently oppose. But even with these best of intentions, I can still feel the pull of a self-reinforcing narrative, even on benign subjects. Is it even possible to break free from this geological force?

Maybe the first step in bending the arc of truth away from confirmation bias and towards intellectual honesty is to admit that the problem isn’t just other people; it’s you and me, too.


Photo by Martin Parr