Magazine article The Spectator

The Wiki Man: Rory Sutherland

Magazine article The Spectator

The Wiki Man: Rory Sutherland

Article excerpt

Thanks to meteoric advances in computational power, it is now possible to take abundant data from a wide range of sources, and use statistical modelling to prove... um, whatever bullshit conclusion you hoped to prove in the first place.

For all the excitement of the information age, we must remember that self-serving delusions like nothing better than large quantities of information. The internet was a gift to conspiracy theorists, for instance. But confirmation bias is also more pronounced among the educated. (No one measures the negative consequences of higher education, but a naïve faith in universals has to be one of them.)

Back in the analogue age, people couldn't avoid exposure to shades of opinion. Today we face so many facts that it is easy to ignore awkward information altogether. In police work this is known as 'privileging the hypothesis', where you obsessively look for information in support of your initial theory and unconsciously fail to follow any line of enquiry which might contradict it. Something called the 'filter bubble' exaggerates this still more. This arises from social media algorithms which disproportionately feed people content that echoes their existing beliefs. It also doesn't help that most social media has only three modes of emotional expression: smug, soppy and nasty. An abridged version of the ten trillion or so words on Facebook would simply read: 'Look at me!' 'Gosh, isn't this terrible!' 'Go fuck yourself!'

But the UK also has a particular problem with its political filter bubble which, weirdly, nobody mentions. I carelessly assumed that many people had written about it already, so never bothered doing so myself. But, on googling the topic, I can find only one article: by a Bristolian writer called Mitchell Labiak writing for the US website Policy Digest on how paywalls make us dumber.

Labiak makes the inarguable point that on both sides of the Atlantic there is almost no high-quality journalism from the moderate right-wing press available free and ungated on line. …

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