Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Law of Media Inconsequentiality and The Paradox of Media Abundance

From Fixing Twitter by Blocking Trump... is Wonderful by Thomas Baekdal. A rather mixed article but with some interesting insights.

Baekdal is suggesting a mechanism for blocking terms in Twitter in order to clear out low value, repetitious, inconsequential tweets which, while interesting to those in media, are of no use to anyone else. Actually, worse than that, all the repetitious inanity is harmful as it crowds out interesting and value-adding tweets. A Gresham's Law of Media Content if you will. Gresham's Law suggests that bad money drives out good. More formally, "if there are two forms of commodity money in circulation, which are accepted by law as having similar face value, the more valuable commodity will disappear from circulation."

Reformulating Gresham's Law to the reality of epistemology on the internet, you might get the Law of Media Inconsequentiality:
If there are two forms of knowledge content in circulation, which are accepted by custom as having similar trustworthiness, the more valuable commodity will disappear from circulation.
Baekdal is highlighting a real issue. In the digital environment of universal access to free content, how do you curate your sources in order to achieve an elevated level of value rather than undifferentiated debasement?

In Baekdal's instance, his complaint is that all his media friends and colleagues incessantly tweet about Trump. There is no news or value content to those tweets. They simply don't like Trump and therefore they tweet about him. Baekdal's tweet stream is clogged with non-value adding tweets and he wants to filter out all the non-value adding chatter about Trump, Ailes, Tucker Carlson, KKK, nazis, covfefe, and a couple of dozen other lightning rods for inane commentary.

Baekdal suggests that the reason there is such a digital diluge of cognitive pollution is due to the structure and culture of the media. He illustrates it thus:

I agree. The interests, priorities, obsessions and values of the people in media do not readily match those of normal people. His interesting conclusion is that:
So, the reality is that if I want to get a more balanced view of the world, I should spend less time reading the news.
One might call that the Paradox of Media Abundance. The more media you consume, the more distorted is your view of reality.

Answering his friends concerns about filtering one's media flow:
Specifically, there are two concerns that people ask me about.

The first one is the problem of the filter bubble: The danger that by filtering out these things, I put myself into a filter bubble, which is distorting my world view.

The second concern is that of FOMO, being 'the Fear Of Missing Out'. When you do this, they say, don't you miss out on important news?

The answer to both of these is 'no', but let me explain why.

First of all, let's talk about the filter bubble.

Most people in the media think that any type of filtering forces you into a filter bubble because you only see what you want to see. And while this might be true for some people, it's generally not true for you and me.


In the media, we look at the edges of society, the people who do bad things, and then we dominate everything with just those people. The result is that we end up with a narrative that completely, totally distorts what the world is really like.


Now let's talk about FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out.

The fear of not hearing about something is very real in the media industry. Every journalist and editor suffers from this.

The reality, of course, is that this isn't a problem in the digital world. FOMO is a completely irrational behavior that has no relation to how communication spreads online.

You know the saying: "If it's important enough, it will find you"? This is certainly the case online.

Let me give a simple example.

You will notice that one of the words I'm filtering out is "ailes", which is referencing Chairman and CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes. But on May 18th he died, so guess how quickly I heard about that?


Yep, I actually saw people talking about this before the media started writing about it. It was only a few minutes before, but still.

It was the same when Trump announced he was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Even with my block in place, I still heard about it within seconds of him announcing it (and I then spent the next two hours tweeting about it too).

This is how crazy the digital world is. We are so tightly connected that if a story is important, you will know about it as quickly as anyone else.

The only thing that filtering does is to remove most of the noise. But I still see tons of stories about Trump every single day.

In fact, we actually have the opposite problem. In that if you are not filtering, you will miss important tweets because they are drowned out by all the rest.

I have noticed this with my own Twitter feed. Before I started filtering my feed, I constantly missed important news about the media industry itself, because these tweets were buried in this sea of Trump related outrage.

Today, now that I am filtering, I see those tweets much more clearly, which helps me stay up to date.
Baekdal follows with some other observations and then concludes.
The key is to bring balance back to Twitter, so that no single topic or person dominates your stream.

Blocking Trump (and Trump related tweets) will bring the value you once had on Twitter. It will allow to get out of the filter bubble you are currently in, to see more things that were drowned out before, and it will help your overall mood.

It won't stop you from learning about all the stupid things, but it will help you to not be dominated by them.

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