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Manipulating Your Emotions

It goes without saying that there’s a lot of anger and vitriol online. Sometimes it feels like the whole Internet has turned into a 24/7 screaming cable news channels. What gives? Are we really all that angry all the time?

Take an individual who’s really worked up and show them that there are thousands or millions of other people who feel the same way. Instead of just keeping it to themselves and moving on with their life, no they feel like they have a tribe and they’re much more likely to take action or join in the yelling.

Now take someone who is just trying to make ends meet. Give them a platform like YouTube or a blogging/news site where they get paid for views. What kinds of content do you think is going to get the most views? The controversial stuff! These sites end up getting flooded with all kinds of messages solely intended to ignite your emotions and make sure anyone in your internet reach sees them too. The author is using your anger to make money. We can get mad at them all we want, but they’re not really breaking any rules, and if it wasn’t effective, they wouldn’t do it.

It’s incredibly difficult to do anything to block this kind of content. It used to be that pictures were as far as you could go to make fakes but now we’re seeing full videos of people making speeches that they never made. Even if you’re on the lookout for fakes, they can be hard to spot.

On top of that, anytime a site tries to block this kind of content, there’s inevitably going to be false positives. Does site X hates viewpoint Y because it took down a legitimate video? What if they have more accidents on one side than the other? Is it because the site has a political agenda? Probably not. The simpler answer is that the people trying to make a buck on the videos have figured out that they make more by angering one side of the topic than the other.

Obviously we can’t just roll over and give up. There’s a group called Media Wise that is working to train kids (and adults) how to be smart consumers of media. They teach you to withhold your belief of any story until you’ve confidently answered three questions:

  1. Who is behind the information?
  2. What’s the evidence?
  3. What do other sources say?

The questions seem to simple but how often do we ignore them and jump to being angry?

Some talks I listened to at Strata delved into this and Destin from Smarter Every Day has been diving into this as well. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic so you can help protect yourself from being part of the problem, here are some recommended pieces of media to consume:

  • No Dumb Questions and in episode 55
  • Destin met with the Media Wise group in a recent video and walked through two examples of asking those three questions about real news stories.
  • I haven’t watched it yet, but I suspect that the first video in Destin’s new three part series is going to be a good dive into the complexities of this problem.

This problem isn’t going to go away. Change starts at home. Train yourself to be heavily skeptical of everything you read. If you have kids at home, these skills are some of the most important things you can teach them.

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