Social Media is At Odds With Science: Research

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Social Media is At Odds With Science: Research

Given the distribution of facts and arguments, as well as the objectives of presenting, editorials published in the Science journal argued that social media in its current form may be fundamentally broken currently. According to the writers, algorithms are now in charge, and the system’s priorities are, unfortunately, backward.

Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele of the University of Wisconsin-Madison highlight the fundamental gap between what scientists want and what social media platforms deliver.

According to the authors:

The realities of arguments in most online venues are fundamentally at variance with the rules of scientific discourse and the rigorous, impartial, and transparent appraisal of evidence. It’s arguable whether social media platforms built to monetise user outrage and disagreement are the most effective means of persuading sceptical audiences that settled science about climate change and vaccines is not up for debate.

Algorithms to Blame

According to the authors, the same profit-driven algorithmic technologies that “attract science-friendly and curious followers to scientists’ Twitter feeds and YouTube channels” are also responsible for alienating scientists from the audiences with whom they need to interact the most. According to the writers,

A tectonic shift in the power balance in science information ecologies is to blame. The ability of science audiences to navigate through increasingly rising knowledge streams is outperformed by social media platforms and their underlying algorithms, which take advantage of their emotional and cognitive deficiencies. When something like this happens, no one should be surprised.

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“This is an excellent method for Facebook to make money,” said Holden Thorp, Editor-in-Chief of the Science family of publications, who has also examined the matter.

Two Ways Scientists Interact With Social Media

Thorp mentioned in a remark to TechCrunch that there are at least two issues with how social media and scientists engage with one another. He went on to say:

One is that scientists like to utilise social media, particularly Twitter, to ping ideas around and freely air them, support them, or dismiss them, much like they used to do standing around a blackboard or at a conference. It was going on before the pandemic, but it’s now become a key mode of communication. Of course, the problem with it is that there is now a permanent record of it.People who are trying to undercut what we’re doing cherry-pick some of the hypotheses that are developed and turn out to be false, overturned in the ordinary course of science.

The second is a lack of understanding of algorithms, particularly those used by Facebook, which place a high value on disagreement and informal posts that promote conflict. ‘My uncle wore a mask to church and got COVID anyway,’ for example, will always win out over official information.

Nothing New

Thorp also noted that this is merely the most recent phase of a long history of anti-factual tendencies and politicisation. He elaborated:

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People tend to get a little more passionate about this without realising it’s a really basic thing: political parties will not adopt the same viewpoint — and when one is scientifically rigorous, the other will be anti-science.

He went on to say:

That’s a political party recognising that being against science was more politically advantageous than being for it. So it’s another area where scientists are ignorant, claiming that “we aren’t getting our message across!” However, you’re up against a political machine that now wields the might of Facebook.

Brossard and Scheufele give their final thoughts on Garry Kasparov’s legendary defeat by Deep Blue, a chess-playing computer system, after which no one dared to beat computer programmes. The authors had this to say:

Scientists now have the same understanding. It’s a new era for using facts and data to shape public debates, and certain realities have shifted for the better.

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