This is the glorious era of Social Media – the era of consulting the masses to learn what people really think about issues and topics that affect their lives. Through Twitter and Facebook and countless other sites, companies and governments are whipping themselves into a frenzy to consult and reach out to Joe Beercan, desperate to know what he thinks.
Social media revolution or not, the results of the latest fads of crowd sourcing information have resulted in a few sadly predictable observations. No one should be surprised to discover these timeless truths, and yet we forget them over and over again, until we once again bump up against the Laws of Uninformed Ignorance.
The Laws of Uninformed Ignorance
1. People don’t want to know anything complicated
Don’t bother people with complicated facts. They won’t read them and wouldn’t understand them if they did. If it can’t be consumed in between sips of Budweiser while the commercials are on, its message will be lost on the masses. This is why Jenny McCarthy can raise awareness of the complete bullshit connection between vaccines and autism, but doctors can’t actually counter it despite reams of scientific evidence. McCarthy’s message is “I’m famous and sad about autism and think that those icky vaccines did it”. The response of doctors? ”Please read this 15 page summary of research into the safety of vaccines.”
I know which I would trust for scientific accuracy, but I also know which one most people actually noticed and paid attention to – and it wasn’t the guys in the white coats.
2. Faith Kicks Logic’s Ass
Nothing annoys me more than smug creationists who deny evolution. Why? Not just because they’re wrong, but rather because they’re wrong and don’t even care. No one with the honest intellectual capacity of a just-evolved species of super mole can honestly look at the legitimate science that exists to back up evolution and come away with any conclusion other than that the theory is massively supported by the scientific evidence. Everything from medicine to chemistry, physics, geology and molecular biology clearly demonstrates the strength of the theory.
This is meaningless though, because the kind of people who deny evolution aren’t engaged in an intellectual exercise to determine the truth – they’re engaged in an expression of their faith, regardless of how illogical that faith might be. This is just one example of this phenomenon. It exists everywhere – in the birther movement, in the bizarre world of conspiracy nuts, and even in mainstream politics and media. After all, if Bill O’Reilly can’t explain how the moon got there, why should we believe that some science nerd can.
3. Personal Experience Trumps Reality
It doesn’t matter how many times the government tries to promote a sophisticated understanding of what government employees do and the how the programs that they deliver benefit people. What does matter is that Bob heard a story from Ricky about how his uncle works at the Post Office and all they ever do down there is dance naked around barrels of burning tax dollars.
The average person seems incapable of distinguishing between their personal experiences, and the realities of a broader world. Does the Pakistani guy at the coffee shop seem dishonest to you? Clearly it’s because “those people” are thieves. Did your grandfather tell you stories about the treacherous Chinese he killed in the Korean War? Clearly we can’t trust those gooks.
These stories play out over and over – from the racist thug who thinks his neighbour should be deported, despite being a third generation American, to the wannabe hippy who once had a part-time job working for some jerk, which proves that capitalism is evil. People extrapolate from their own, often poorly understood experiences, to draw conclusions about the world.
The cumulative effect of these laws is that the opinion of the average group of random internet users is largely useful only for printing out and wrapping slightly spoiled fish. Whether it is on Facebook or Twitter or Quora, the average discussion is populated largely by the uninformed, in defense of the untrue, at the expense of the meaningful.