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Messaging / Social Apps and their impact on deep thinking, reactionism and fake news

Those of us who were (little) early to the Internet party would find the current forwarding and fake news culture on Whatsapp / Facebook similar to what ranting & flaming on newsgroups (e-groups) used to be in the early 2000s.

However, newsgroups, because their access was to a limited few, were also places where ideas were born, partnerships formed & organisations were created. But I find Whatsapp (or other forms of messaging apps like Discord or Telegram) not being so.

One probable reason for this, I feel, is the lack of long-form prose which email as a medium supported and which messaging as a medium shuns. Long form writing forces you to think deeper, engage in self-correction between various coordinated (or uncoordinated) parts of your own thinking and also help the reader absorb the context and message both.

To be sure, the long form thinking was not mandatory in an email, and so, there was reactionism, flaming and shaming on newsgroups as well, but that was also accompanied on the side by deep thinking and logical reasoning. Certain people or certain e-groups built a culture of not reacting by moderation which was a feature in these e-group systems.

Messaging apps of today, on the other hand, do not support any such features, you can't moderate even if you wanted to, the interface does not encourage writing or reading the long-form and it stresses reacting, sharing or instant response rather than careful, well thought and calibrated response.

Just to take a measure, how many of you reading this long-form post of mine have had the patience to reach this point of this text. Instead, if I would have sent this as an email, you would have.

An ex-Facebook exec, Chamath Palihapitiya, felt guilty of creating a time-wasting monster in Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg also feels guilty at times of fake news, and fake news I argue is not a phenomenon of its own, but rather its spread is a result of this instant reaction that messaging and Social Media apps encourage.

Its high time technology companies realised that their design decisions can't just be slaves to what 'users want' or what will make the platform more 'viral'. Facebook is viral enough, WhatsApp is ubiquitous enough. They need to now design for the more conscious audience or to improve the conscience of and thinking abilities of its audience. I hope Facebook and Whatsapp teams are paying attention to this.

Epilogue - results of survey

I had first posted this spiel on my Facebook wall and instructed people who read till the end to click the 'Love' icon and those who stopped after the first paragraph (which is previewed on their Fb timeline) to click the 'Sad' sign. The quick one day survey got 10 reactions - 6 loves, 4 Likes but no 'Sad' reactions. Mostly those who hit the like, just browsed past the first few lines and hit the 'Like' without even referring to the instructions - which all the more illustrates that we really don't pay 'attention' to the content of Social Media posts and react based on very flimsy reading of the content.

Title Image Credits Álvaro Ibáñez

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