Jeff Wagg


The Experiment


Another day on Facebook. (Photo by Barcroft)

Last month, I announced on Facebook that I was conducting an experiment, and that everyone reading would be a part of it.

And that's all I said about it.

I expected a few likes from close friends, and that would be it. I had never intended to publish the RESULTS of the experiment, unless there was something interesting. But it seems that the word "experiment" is really interesting... more interesting than many of the things I actively TRY to get people interested in.

The experiment was simple: how much could I change what I saw on Facebook by changing what I put on Facebook? Obviously, what you see on Facebook is the result of a complex algorithm. And what I was seeing was... ugly. Anger, lies, mockery, shaming, tribalism - all the things that make me want to withdraw from society. But if I refused to engage in those activities on Facebook, would Facebook change?

In short, the answer is... No. My friends list is over 4,000, and I don't very  many of these people. I've had this account for ten years, and when I started it, I was a public face for a non-profit, and I accepted everyone without consideration. I still do, for the most part. As such, I have not created a little echo chamber for myself like many people have, but a group of strangers, many of whom LOVE poking fun at other people, without any curiosity as to what the rest of the story might be.

To be fair, I wasn't very good at contributing my part of the experiment. I found it very difficult to avoid SIWOTI situations. I did manage to avoid adding new rants, but I found myself correcting things that other people posted. It's a compulsion. Though I truly wish to be corrected (and have been recently), I've learned that for some reason, most people don't want to consider new evidence. They're not interested in learning more about the world; they're only interested in reinforcing their opinion.

My lack of posting anything negative or confrontational had exactly zero impact on what I saw in my feed.

I created a new phase for the experiment: I stopped posting altogether. I made this easier for myself by not releasing new content on College of Curiosity, thus forcing myself to engage on social networks. Yeah, I ignored Twitter too, but I don't have much use for Twitter anyway.

I did look every day to see what was going on, but after a couple of days, that became a chore. I just wasn't interested in what was being said on Facebook, and I quickly realized that anything *I* said was unimportant. The idea that there's something important on Facebook is completely artificial.

I ended up liking not have to pay attention to Facebook, and I think if it wasn't for promoting new content, I'd likely close my account. The signal to noise ratio is sadly low.

And I do mean sad. Facebook is absolutely amazing. I have friends I made when I was 19 talking with friends I made just last year. They will probably never meet, but they're talking with one another and sharing experiences. That's magic. There is a potential here to grow humanity and reach out to people with different experiences, but I see little will to use it that way. Most people are content to simply reinforce their in-group and distance themselves from everyone else. Disagree? You're blocked. Ask a question? You're one of THEM.

There's a distinct difference between having a different point of view and discussing it with someone else, and trying to win an argument. Every conflict presents the opportunity for both sides to learn something, even if one side is factually correct and the other isn't. I wish more folks had the goal of determining the truth of the matter rather than arguing "I'm right" or "My friend is right!"

I wish people were more curious.

I have to also recognize that a lot of the folks I've friended on Facebook ARE curious. They're actually interested in learning something and maintaining as accurate a worldview as possible. You're the folks that make me get out of bed in the morning, and I appreciate you greatly. Unfortunately, you're being drowned up by "look at this idiot" and "if you think this, you're an asshole" type posts.

So that was the experiment, and I'm sorry if it's a disappointingly simple thing. I probably shouldn't have posted it about it at all, but at least I learned that people like the idea of experiments, and I maybe I can do a CofC project like that in the future.








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  1. Reading the above and finding this gem made it all worthwhile (for me) … quote

    “There’s a distinct difference between having a different point of view and discussing it with someone else, and trying to win an argument. Every conflict presents the opportunity for both sides to learn something, even if one side is factually correct and the other isn’t.”

  2. That’s interesting, Jeff. Thanks for that. I deliberately don’t block or unfriend people who post stuff that annoys me. (Well, except in one or two especially bad cases). Makes it a harder but ultimately more useful experience, I think. 🙂

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