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Has what you've read on Facebook ever changed your vote?


Harvard Professor Gary King at a recent Humphrey School of Public Affairs program asked an interesting question about how much influence social media really has on election outcomes during a discussion on the whole Facebook/Cambridge Analytics brouhaha.

How many times did your vote change during the last election period as a result of something you read on Facebook?

I know mine didn't. Russia could propagandize its little heart out, and I seriously doubt my views on most political issues would change one iota. So why, if I know I am more or less immune to propaganda, fake news, spin, and other forms of influence, am I worried about others being manipulated politically?

Is it because I just assume that I am smarter than the rest of the great unwashed public?

Here are a few uncomfortable truths I try to remember:

  • Equally smart people can have very different political views. Politics are about values not intelligence.
  • Both sides of the political divide use suspect tools of influence in attempting to sway opinion.
  • We rarely seek unbiased information about controversial topics - we look for and read those opinions which support our values.
  • No one makes completely rational decisions.
  • Nearly everyone is a lot smarter and less-susceptible to manipulation than we give them credit for.
  • We probably don't know when we ourselves are being manipulated.
  • We are more likely to listen to defensively respond than to listen to actually learn.
  • People enjoy stirring the pot with outrageous political statements and satirical humor. The bigger the reaction, the bigger the rush. People like attention.
  • No issue can be explained in 140 characters or less.
  • All communication has inherent bias.

As a life-long writer and speaker, I find how people attempt to influence others as or more interesting than why they want to change others beliefs.

What an interesting time to be alive! Or at least that's what I read on Facebook.

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