Thursday, October 29, 2009

Full Frontal Reality: how to combat the growing lunatic fringe

There is a growing problem of polarization of the public into lunatic fringe groups that are losing touch with reality. This is fueled by new forms of media, and I suggest a need for media to enable a new kind of direct frontal attack on this problem.

Today's conference on "Creating a New Model for News and Information" had a very interesting discussion by luminaries in the news business that touched on the problems of the Internet and "The Daily Me" in which people increasingly filter their news sources to support their viewpoints. This is a technology-enhanced form of "confirmation bias."

Perhaps this can be countered using the same technology to find ways to create, direct, and select materials coming from contrary viewpoints that are tailored to directly counter such bias in constructive ways.

The angle here is that confirmation bias is very easy and comforting, but reality usually offers more survival value.
  • Systems that can find complementary information and demonstrate that it offers survival value could be very influential, at least to the subset of holders of extreme views that have not totally severed contact with reality.
  • The idea is to encourage them to reality-test -- to seek serendipitous exposure to balanced and well-reasoned antidotes to the biased material they usually see, and to demonstrate the practical value of more balanced viewpoints.
One thing this needs is content creators willing to speak to the heretics, and not just preach to the choir, or even to the middle. Extremists on both sides of any issue generally seek to reinforce their base and to convert wavering middle of the roaders to the extreme. An underexploited counter strategy is to speak directly to those who are moving toward the extreme, but not fully committed to an extreme mind-set, to demonstrate in a non-threatening or off-putting way that reality is not so extreme (or so black and white). This method is underused because it lacks a way to reach the audience that needs to see it.

So the other thing needed is a smarter delivery service, a new media filtering tool that specifically aids in bringing such materials to those who need to hear them.
  • Filters that give you food for thought, in a way that is constructive, interesting, and not threatening
  • Services that demonstrate the folly of extreme views

With such tools, when you personalize your "Daily Me" to know what you want, it will also give you some of what you need, stuff you don't know you want. Some people will have no interest in that, but some will find it valuable and stimulating to get a breath of fresh air that does not reek of the biases of the opposite side.

...If there are already delivery services developing with this aim, I would be very interested to hear about them.

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