Tag Archives: Social networks

Global cooperation depends on the strength of local connections


The Descent of Man, Author: Charles Darwin.

By Benjamin Allen – The story of humanity is one of extraordinary cooperation but also terrible conflict. We come together to build cities, civilizations and cultures, but we also destroy these through violence against each other and degradation of our environment.

Given that human nature is capable of both extremes, how can we design societies and institutions that help to bring out our better, more cooperative, instincts?

This question is not limited to humans. Life’s domains are replete with many forms of cooperation, from microbes sharing helpful molecules to dolphins providing aid to the injured. This kind of ‘altruistic’ behavior – helping others at one’s own expense – presents an evolutionary puzzle.

Ideas about evolution and human nature can be difficult to test in the laboratory. However, insight can come from a surprising place: mathematics. The idea is to create a mathematical model: a cartoon picture of the real world, drawn in the language of maths. Mathematical analysis can then provide a kind of ‘instant experiment’ to test an idea on its theoretical merits.

Individuals can cooperate, helping their neighbors at a cost to themselves, or not. This choice is an example of what game theory calls the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’. Each individual, if acting in pure self-interest, would choose not to cooperate. Yet cooperation by everyone leads to greater prosperity for all.

Over time, one strategy will win out: society will converge to a state where either everyone cooperates or no one does. more> https://goo.gl/XC4Ju9

How our desires shape our beliefs


The Influential Mind, Author: Tali Sharot.

By Tali Sharot – A study conducted at Harvard University found that people were willing to forgo money so that their opinions would be broadcast to others. A brain-imaging scan showed that when people received the opportunity to communicate their opinions to others, their brain’s reward center was strongly activated.

We experience a burst of pleasure when we share our thoughts, and this drives us to communicate. It is a useful feature of our brain, because it ensures that knowledge, experience and ideas do not get buried with the person who first had them, and that as a society we benefit from the products of many minds.

What determines whether you affect the way others think and behave or are ignored?

You may assume that numbers and statistics are what you need to change their point of view. Well, you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that all these experiments pointed to the reality that people are not driven by facts.

The problem with an approach that prioritizes information is that it ignores the core of what makes us human: our motives, our fears, our hopes, our desires, our prior beliefs. more> https://goo.gl/65RTwv

Did Google and GoDaddy Set a Dangerous Precedent by Dropping a Neo-Nazi Website?

By Jack Denton – GoDaddy’s decision comes at a particularly fraught moment in the debate over whether freedom of speech can be reconciled with attempts to quell hateful discourse and actions. Additionally, with the Internet becoming the preferred mode of public discourse, abusive trolling and rampant falsehoods have led some to call for increased accountability from Internet service providers and social media companies for the content they host and support.

The central question of this debate continues to be: Is freedom worth its consequences?

Preventing people from reaching the Daily Stormer’s website does nothing to actually combat the ideas. There’s the old, famous saying that the remedy for bad speech is more speech—it’s not silencing the bad speech. Hate speech is legal in the United States. And people are going to continue to express themselves in awful ways, and cutting off the domain name isn’t helpful for the dialogue.

Any attempt to try to hold service providers responsible is absolutely bound to backfire. In the marketplace of ideas, we need to have exposure to all sorts of ideas. Good ones, bad ones, fake ones—all of them are valuable in their own way. The reader is the only one whose judgment matters.

The problems in Charlottesville were not problems of speech, they were problems of violence. more> https://goo.gl/YBkDkM

Updates from Georgia Tech

Decades of Data on World’s Oceans Reveal a Troubling Oxygen Decline
By Takamitsu Ito, Shoshiro Minobe, Matthew C. Long and Curtis Deutsch – A new analysis of decades of data on oceans across the globe has revealed that the amount of dissolved oxygen contained in the water – an important measure of ocean health – has been declining for more than 20 years.

The majority of the oxygen in the ocean is absorbed from the atmosphere at the surface or created by photosynthesizing phytoplankton. Ocean currents then mix that more highly oxygenated water with subsurface water. But rising ocean water temperatures near the surface have made it more buoyant and harder for the warmer surface waters to mix downward with the cooler subsurface waters. Melting polar ice has added more freshwater to the ocean surface – another factor that hampers the natural mixing and leads to increased ocean more> stratification.

Falling oxygen levels in water have the potential to impact the habitat of marine organisms worldwide and in recent years led to more frequent “hypoxic events” that killed or displaced populations of fish, crabs and many other organisms. more> https://goo.gl/3F17TB


“I have nothing to hide. Why should I care about my privacy?”

By Fábio Esteves – There are two sets of reasons to care about your privacy even if you’ve got nothing to hide: ideological reasons and practical reasons.

Don’t confuse privacy with secrecy. I know what you do in the bathroom, but you still close the door. That’s because you want privacy, not secrecy.

A company like Facebook or Google allows you to upload unlimited data to their servers, for free. What’s their business model? How do they make so much money? They sell your info to advertising companies. But they never asked you if you wanted to sell your information. If someone asked you in person 100 questions about your personal life to sell it, would you answer them? Probably not, right? But you let this happen every time you use a service that makes money selling your info. more> https://goo.gl/mstSm5

How social media filter bubbles and algorithms influence the election

By Alex Hern – One of the most powerful players in the British election is also one of the most opaque.. With just over two weeks to go until voters go to the polls, there are two things every election expert agrees on: what happens on social media, and Facebook in particular, will have an enormous effect on how the country votes; and no one has any clue how to measure what’s actually happening there.

Not all of that comes from automation. It also comes from the news culture, bubbles of education, and people’s ability to do critical thinking when they read the news. But the proximate cause of misinformation is Facebook serving junk news to large numbers of users.” more> https://goo.gl/wmkDhT

Democracy needs politeness

By Steven Bullock – In 1808, the US president Thomas Jefferson ranked the ‘qualities of mind’ he valued. Not surprisingly, he included ‘integrity’, ‘industry’, and ‘science’. These traits were particularly important to American revolutionaries seeking a society based on independent citizens, rather than harsh rulers and inherited privilege.

But at the top of his list, Jefferson chose not these familiar Enlightenment values but ‘good humour’ – or what contemporaries usually called ‘politeness’.

18th-century Britons and Americans believed that politeness was essential for a free society. Autocrats shouted, cursed and berated. But they sought only obedience. Leading a more open society required respect for other people, sensitivity to their expectations and concerns. By the time of Jefferson’s ranking, politeness had been part of the project of challenging authoritarian rule for more than a century. more> https://goo.gl/IVIswe

What know-it-alls don’t know, or the illusion of competence

By Kate Fehlhaber – This ‘illusion of confidence’ is now called the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’, and describes the cognitive bias to inflate self-assessment.

It’s typical for people to overestimate their abilities. And similar trends have been found when people rate their relative popularity and cognitive abilities.

The problem is that when people are incompetent, not only do they reach wrong conclusions and make unfortunate choices but, also, they are robbed of the ability to realize their mistakes.

Instead of being confused, perplexed or thoughtful about their erroneous ways, incompetent people insist that their ways are correct. As Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man (1871): ‘Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.’

After all, as Confucius reportedly said, real knowledge is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance. more> https://goo.gl/MkSn8M

21st-century propaganda: A guide to interpreting and confronting the dark arts of persuasion

By Gideon Lichfield – The belief, or rather hope, that humankind is ultimately rational has gripped Western politics at least since Descartes, and inspired such 19th-century optimists as Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe,” Jefferson famously wrote.

But in recent years we’ve learned much about the human mind that contradicts the view of people as rationally self-interested decision-makers. Psychologists have established that we form beliefs first and only then look for evidence to back them up.

Research has turned up apparent physiological and psychological differences between liberals and conservatives, and found evidence that these differences have ancient evolutionary origins. It has identified the “backfire effect,” a.k.a. confirmation bias, in which people hew to even more strongly to an existing belief when shown evidence that clearly contradicts it.

Other research has looked at the habits of highly effective propagandists such as China, Russia, and alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos.

The main takeaways: truth, rationality, consistency, and likability aren’t necessary for getting people to absorb your viewpoint. Things that do work: incessant repetition, distractions from the main issue, sidestepping counterarguments rather than refuting them, using “peripheral cues” to establish credibility or authority, and antagonizing people who dislike you in order to get the attention of people who might like you. more> https://goo.gl/ddOwca


I write on the internet. I’m sorry.

By Michael Brendan – One of the main reasons they feel like this is because of the internet, particularly social media’s effect on the way news is created and delivered to you. And how all of this has warped the experience of those who have lived through these social changes.

It isn’t just about politics either, but almost every dimension of human experience.

Do you love architecture? Someone just built a monstrosity next to a building you loved. Click here.

Do you adore products by Apple? Well, they’re screwing them up. Click here.

Did you just feel that unnamable, almost unmentionable surge of gratitude for all the people you’ve known in life and all the kindnesses their presence brought to you? Click here and see that most of them have contemptibly dumb opinions about everything.

The internet doesn’t coddle you in a comforting information bubble. It imprisons you in an information cell and closes the walls in on you by a few microns every day. It works with your friends and the major media on the outside to make a study of your worst suspicions about the world and the society you live in. Then it finds the living embodiments of these fears and turns them into your cell mates. And good heavens it is efficient. more> https://goo.gl/b9DXYn