It’s no wonder that conspiracy theories are suddenly everywhere — our social media platform rewards inflammatory content.

It started innocently. An old high school friend started posting mysterious messages on Facebook. Something big was about to happen, so we should look to the sky. Then it started to get stranger and more annoying: first that Bill Gates was lying about something, and that the pandemic was a hoax. Most recently, he posted that the Capitol attack was the work of an “Antifa Marxist.”

It was an uneasy memory that conspiracy theories were everywhere. Strange and mysterious theories like QAnon and COVID-19, where hoaxes seem to be swallowing people, inspired by bubbles in Facebook groups and forums all over the web. Reddit even has an entire section dedicated to those who have lost their loved ones in these delusional rabbit holes.

This is the dynamics of our intellectual landscape today. Not only must we confront the rise of extremism and inflamed rhetoric, but we must also confront fringe thinking that is completely separate from reality.

My solution to my old friend’s anger was simple enough. I just muted him. But while it’s easy to cut out the apparently wrong idea from your life, the more insidious problem is the idea of ​​embarrassing that threshold.

please think about it. Last week, Dr. Richard Shabas, a former Ontario Chief Medical Officer, suggested that the blockade of the Ford government was not based on good science. It surprised me. I have learned to dismiss ramblings about blockades that deny people’s freedom or do more harm than good, but at least argue that our approach should be considered wrong. There was a legitimate medical professional.

Whether Shabas is correct is controversial, unlike conspiracy theories. So the question is, how do we separate ridiculous ideas from simply unpopular or unorthodox ones in an era where both good and bad ideas merge into the dissonance of social media? about it.

Both conspiracy theorists and extremists take up the “pagan thinker” cloak, whether or not the label really applies. For example, the right side of the spectrum is full of people who claim to be the last fort of independent thinking, but in reality it is enthusiastic from the theory that the Milke Toast diversity initiative is actually disguised as Stalinism. It is indistinguishable from the rare moments of awakening. ..

This shows an online bipartisan environment. In this situation, it is often difficult for rational thinkers to distinguish extreme ideas from the more common or unusual, but it is still worth considering.

It points out that when flooded with opinions and ideas, many of them are so ridiculous that shortcuts to separating wheat from rice husks can be safely labeled as worthless. Hear that the idea is to get out of hand. It’s not an intellectual strategy rather than a survival mechanism, but a kind of tactic to deal with the bombing of what is an online news feed.

Ultimately, it’s easier to judge an idea by affiliation rather than content, depending on who holds the idea, not the idea itself. It may have been intellectually suspected in the past, but if it’s easy to come across a concept as ridiculous as a well-thought-out concept, it’s understandable to think of team terminology rather than rigorous.

That context makes more important how the idea gets into the general public or becomes popular in recent years. Many people stick to the idea of ​​Overton windows. It is the range of acceptable policies that the general public allows at a particular time. The window shifts and is often pulled to the edge of the discourse. For example, only a few years ago, the idea of ​​repaying police funds, or more fundamentally, the abolition of police was mostly confined to academia and the remaining activists. But in 2020, the largest newspaper on the continent published an editorial on those ideas.

But if that’s a positive example, what if it’s hard to distinguish between a revolutionary idea and a ridiculous idea?

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Not a little, the downside here lies in the footsteps of the big tech companies and how the incentive-based structure prioritizes the most exciting content. It clouded the intellectual water and placed a conspiracy next to the peer-reviewed treatises, making it difficult to distinguish them from each other. Then there are many bad actors, and well, we all struggle to hear our voice, and ratchet our rhetoric to the extreme to cut noise.

While it was easy to silence old high school friends, the collapse of our intellectual landscape is a much more difficult problem to solve. To establish trust in the media and professionals, you need to carry out long-term, complex projects on all the once promising Webs. I’m afraid that otherwise it would be too easy for the conspiracy to dominate, losing solid ideas. It’s good to get lost in the sea of ​​people, and because it’s true, everyone screams that only they have found the truth. , Drown in what is really happening.

Navneet Alang is a Toronto-based star freelance contribution technology columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @navalang

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It’s no wonder that conspiracy theories are suddenly everywhere — our social media platform rewards inflammatory content.

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