Given the events of the past 24 hours in Washington, D.C., what are we to make of what’s happened? Is there something about social media use that allows its messages to get past our built-in censors and sense of rationality? There has always been a conflict between emotion or affect and rationality or reason. And history has shown that affect tends to trump reason. “Feelings” overpower reasoning; they take some kind of intracranial short cut (or, perhaps, detour would be a better descriptor), bypassing the left side of the brain overall and the cerebral cortex in particular, putting hormonal responses into overdrive while driving out any prior disposition to thinking before acting.
Social media are clearly being weaponized. Whether it’s ISIS recruitment or QAnon and other conspiracy theories, bad results are being propagated through the use of otherwise benign media. Congress seems intent on reining in the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets. Perhaps the time has come when they should be held to the same standards as the print media, who can be held liable for messages that they disseminate.
The troubling question is, however, who would be the censors? Is it conceivably possible to obtain an unbiased, objective evaluation of media content? I would argue, not at this time. Perhaps we turn the job over to AI? But then, we already have seen critiques that point out programmers’ own biases tend to manifest in their AI-driven constructs. Given the current state of Americans’ distrust of print or “mainstream” media, could we expect anything better in the electronic media?
This is the defining conundrum of our time.