Logical fallacies are an important part of life as we know it. Sometimes called rationalizations they are blips in logic that we most often use to get something we want though are not entitled to. We use fallacies and rationalizations daily. How important are they? I remember a line from a movie: you can go a day without sex but try going a day without a single rationalization.
Logical fallacies are a part of communicating and we all use them from time to time. They’ve been around so long some have Latin names like, Tu quoque which translates as “you too” meaning a assertion is wrong because the person making the statement fails to live up to it. For instance, “Don’t cast the first stone if you are not above reproach,” is an example. Interestingly it is counterbalanced by “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Fundamentally this only works if we set ourselves as the judges of good and bad, right or wrong. Modern civilization skirts the problem by making standards to measure up to, some call them laws and norms. We have laws against murder for instance because we believe as a society that we can’t deprive anyone of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Also it’s hard to live with others if you’re constantly worried they’ll kill you.
What to do? No one on a jury was ever seriously accused of perfection. A jury simply needs to judge facts. Later on, given the fact set a justice system can administer a fair punishment. No one has to be without sin to work within these constraints.
One fallacy we’ve seen a lot lately is the Argument from Repetition better known as the big lie. Just keep telling the lie long enough and with conviction and you can get some people to believe it.
Then there’s the Gambler’s fallacy in which a person will look for hot streaks where there are none. If you flip a coin ten times and each time it comes up heads, it would be silly to bet on heads next time because of an apparent streak. The ten flips are independent events and so is the eleventh flip which still has the same 50/50 chance of heads or tails. Make your bets accordingly.
There are literally hundreds of fallacies some of which can be rather sophisticated and we’re here to name a new fallacy which I’ll call the Facebook Fallacy.
Facebook recently announced that it would no longer allow its algorithms to recommend civic and political groups to its users. The company is taking heat because many people use the platform for organizing hate groups and the nation is on edge because of all of an increase of hate group activity. It’s not new either, a 2016 studyfound that Facebook algorithms introduced 64 percent of members to their hate groups. It’s a perversion of the algorithm behind if-you-liked-this-you’ll-really-like-that with the algorithms mindlessly matching hotheads with birds of a feather.
So, on the surface, this looks like a good idea. Or is it?
Curtailing everything to stop something small is sometimes called the “throw the baby out with the bathwater” fallacy. This approach harms a lot of good people in the process including the thrower of the baby and water. In this case, Facebook is harming itself for no apparent gain.
So why do this? Facebook is comprised of a lot of smart people who know what fallacies are, but they went ahead with this decision anyway. How many such decisions can Facebook afford to make before the platform loses its value as a place to bring people together for societal good? What then?
So, again, why do this?
The answer may be that this is an effort to preserve the business model as the company continues to take on water over the way it polices itself.
A business model is sacred, a company’s secret sauce, its way of making money, of justifying the corporate jet and of keeping the shareholders at bay. So, a company and its leadership will go to great lengths to preserve, protect and defend the business model.
When a business model is in dire threat you can see a company twist itself into a pretzel before it ultimately changes or goes bankrupt. The tell in this case is that the company will do things that are intuitively senseless on any plane other than that of the business model.
Facebook’s past efforts to protect the business model centered on screening posts to ensure they conform to company policies but that’s expensive and time consuming. It also is far from foolproof regardless of your algorithms.
History repeats itself
We saw the same kind of thing happen in manufacturing in the 1970s and ’80s. Factories were producing products of poor quality and consumers were upset. We aren’t talking toasters either: cars and other big stuff were pretty awful in that era too. Not to worry, manufacturers introduced quality programs only to discover that inspecting for quality at the end of the process was very different from building quality into a product at every step of the manufacturing process.
Facebook has not had that aha! moment when it discovers that it has to build a better product to eliminate misuse of the service; more important that it can’t inspect and retrofit its way to improvement. There are certainly options for building quality into the Facebook experience. For starters you could make everybody use their real names, then you could limit amateurs from addressing the whole world until they demonstrate their bona fides. That goes for marketers and professionals using the service too.
The idea isn’t new. All of the professions from hairstylist to neuro surgeon goes through a process of accreditation and licensure. Electricians get licenses as to barbers. You can cut your own hair or mess with the wiring in your house without a license, but try that in the real world and you will have problems. Social media isn’t like that, at least not yet because it’s a very new field and there are first amendment issues to be dealt with.
A hundred years ago the Supreme Court decided that free speech was fine as long as it did not present “a clear and present danger” to society. The oft cited example is that you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Such speech is not protected.
Until we get to that point or a similar one, Facebook will continue to periodically come up with non-solution solutions to the misuse of its service. For now, it’s appropriate to label efforts like the latest one as throwing the baby out with the bath water or my new favorite, the Facebook Fallacy.