Is technology destroying our ability to have reasoned debate?

By Gordon Jack

Democracy has been hard fought for and requires to be defended but there are a number of worrying trends.

We have always had a strong far-right press that you could either believe or reject. There was an option to buy or ignore. The mantle was taken on by radio and TV that had a balance mainly derived by a demand for audience numbers. The modern problem seems to centre on algorithms to determine which adverts and which trending news items to show you.

I understand why this works for advertising but when it comes to influencing opinion it is a potentially dangerous tool. It reinforces preconceived notions by only showing you items with which you have already shown empathy. This removes the opportunity to see converse opinions and to challenge your own opinion. It does not stunt opinion.

Conversely it reinforces it, entrenches it and creates false posturing without challenge. Challenge, when it comes, usually takes the form of a troll or an extreme advocate of the diverse opinion who attacks your ‘algorithmically selected article’. This engenders a natural defensive reaction. And you can see this manifest itself as others who share your opinion swarm to defend it.

What is missing is reasoned argument. This is the necessary tool to allow fair and balanced decision-making. We are armed with the tools to reinforce our opinion yet have lost the opportunity to make rational decisions.

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