The images from Washington, D.C. are disturbing – the speeches and tweets of President Trump are, too. But what we have witnessed yesterday is not the downfall of the leading democracy in the world. It is proof, that even attempts to destroy it from within stand no chance of succeeding. With the confirmation of President Elect Joe Biden by the Congress, the democratic institutions of the US made a strong statement towards those who seek to undermine democracy.
Looking at the images one thing becomes obvious: the rioters don´t understand that they are rioters. They think they are patriots and defending their country, while they are doing the exact opposite of just that. The surprised faces they show when facing law enforcement and tear gas say: We did not see this coming. Now why is that? It is because not only democracy has been undermined by Trump and his enablers and underlings, also the media, the truth, the belief in facts and political consensus, compromise. The understanding that there are facts – and several diverting opinions about these facts are not only possible but normal and show a healthy discourse.
The media, or better the free press, has the job to deliver the facts and to highlight the differing opinions. And that is why Social “Media” is not media, as the word “media” implies that this would have something to do with journalism, with the finding of facts and truth and the display of the different positions of these facts. Social “Media” is the direct opposite of that. Social “Media” is the root cause for information bubbles, which have formed over the years. What we see these days as “fact checks” in Facebook and Twitter do not change that the algorithm of especially Facebook feeds people with what they believe in much rather than with they should know to form an independent, educated opinion.
One can compare this with the people of North Korea: They do not know any better. The only source of information is the “official” version, so the people have to rely on this “information” and trust it, believe in it, and follow the great leader. In the US case the message of a rigged, stolen election. And this message has been amplified in the bubbles on Facebook and other Social Media Channels. Emboldened by “opinion hosts” which can make the most outlandish claims. The people we saw yesterday have only those information sources. They believe the lies Trump and his underlings and enablers have presented to them. That is why they looked surprised when, finally, the Police showed up to end the sick theater.
In the good old days, people would read a newspaper and with that they would get a broad spectrum of information and different opinions – also on topics that they were not looking for. It helped to have a bigger horizon, to see beyond a buzz. It was much easier to identify lies and untruths and form an educated opinion.
Now we all know that the times have changed, and I am not calling for a revival of the newspaper industry to old glory. What I am saying is that the plurality of information – also the ones I was not actively looking for – is lost in social “media”. The same applies for the plurality of opinions and the understanding, that also someone with a different opinion might have a fair point. The algorithms do the opposite: they feed only what I am actively looking for to me. This must make people narrow-minded, as they automatically must miss the bigger picture. They no longer know that there is more to a story than the slice of it that has been pushed down their throat by Facebook.
What I am calling for is to dismantle those algorithms that treat what I actively seek as what is relevant to me and blind out anything else. Instead, the bubbles must burst – by making it mandatory to include a wider range of topics from a variety of credible news sources to each and any “news feed” in Social Media, so that the people again also get the information they did not actively seek, they did not ask for.
Furthermore, this should not only be mandatory, but it should not be possible to opt out from it. People still have the choice to ignore what is in their news feed, but the key topics should be covered by credible sources of a wider spectrum to avoid these dangerous information bubbles.
This would be a step to restore the understanding that the world is bigger than the own individual opinion and to get a better understanding and broader view. The foundation for compromise, also political compromise, and the way to fight conspiracy theories and outlandish claims. Because it would not be necessary to call out those lies. It would be obvious what they are.
And this, my American friends, does not only apply to your country – we see the same effects here with the same unholy alliances between village idiots of any form and shape, threatening our democracy. One smart person once said: “Each village used to have their village idiot and everyone said: look at that fool. Now, thanks to Facebook, the idiots are connected”.