Yellow birds’ theory

Why is the world so polarized and people so intolerant? I believe that a significant portion of the responsibility lies with algorithms that only offer us yellow birds. As a result, we fail to see society in a transversal way.

Currently, profiling is killing us. Platforms try to guess what we want, they think they know what we like, and therefore only give us content from our tribe. So, if we like yellow birds - and only see yellow birds - we think the world is full of yellow birds. Even though there are many more blue and red birds, we think the world is full of yellow birds. And so, certain individuals, when they see a blue bird, think it's an aberration, that it's a anutlier.

 

Plurality, diversity, and seeing birds of various colors as they exist in reality are essential for building our perception of the world, for being more empathetic and tolerant.

 

In the past, we turned on the television and saw that the world had birds of all colors. Even if we liked yellow birds, we understood that there is a diversity of bird colors. Today, we spend endless hours on social media and other platforms where we are bombarded with addictive content that uses the same logic, which leads us to believe that there are only yellow birds or that they are the predominant group. We end up not having the concern to look at the world in a more pluralistic way, to seek to understand what other birds exist, what their behaviors, habits, and importance in the world are.

 

Thus, we have today as never before a polarized society, a phenomenon in which people divide into tribes with extreme and inflexible opinions, with high levels of intolerance that lead to a lack of respect or acceptance of the opinions and behaviors of other individuals or tribes. This situation makes dialogue, cooperation, and peaceful coexistence among the various tribes difficult.

New platforms and the way we relate to the modern world through social media play an important role in the spread of polarization and intolerance. The algorithms used by these platforms are designed to keep people connected and, for that, show content that is more likely to generate strong emotional reactions. This often leads to the formation of opinion bubbles, in which people are only exposed to perspectives similar to their own. They end up seeing only their yellow birds.

 

In addition, social media is a fertile ground for misinformation and hate speech. False information can spread quickly and reach many people, creating a parallel reality that can be harmful to society. Hate speech, in turn, can lead to violence and marginalization of other, more or less vulnerable tribes, creating a vicious circle of more misinformation and distancing.

 

So how can we combat polarization and intolerance? What should we do and how can we encourage those close to us not to fall into this trap?

 

Digital Education and Media Literacy

I believe that the pillar of society lies in education, truthful information, and knowledge. Thus, the promotion of digital education and media literacy is necessary, where practices and knowledge related to the responsible and critical use of technology are taught, including understanding how algorithms work and how information is shared online. Digital education and media literacy should help people identify reliable sources of information and evaluate the truthfulness and quality of the information they find online. By educating people about how technology and social media work, they will be better equipped to understand and deal with online polarization and intolerance.

 

Healthy Dialogue and Debate

It is essential to expose ourselves to different perspectives and encourage healthy dialogue and debate among people with different points of view. This involves promoting safe spaces for discussion, where people feel comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of retaliation or hostility. It is also important to remember that healthy dialogue and debate do not mean that all perspectives should be equally accepted or that the goal is to reach a consensus, but rather to better understand different perspectives and learn from them, learning to see birds of various colors. In this way, we can build bridges between different tribes and individuals, instead of deepening division and polarization. 

 

Transparency and Corporate Responsibility

In addition to encouraging dialogue and education, it is important to demand more transparency from companies regarding their algorithms and profiling practices. Organizations have a great responsibility regarding the content they publish and share, and therefore should be transparent about how they classify and display content. This may involve disclosing information about the algorithms and rules that determine what is presented to each person. Organizations must be held accountable for any harm caused by their content, especially in cases that lead to hate speech or incitement to violence, insult, and falsehood. Transparency and corporate responsibility are essential to ensure that companies fulfill their ethical and social obligations.

  

The End of Anonymity on Social Media

Another important point that must be debated is anonymity. Much of the content that is shared today cannot be held accountable because it is not possible to know who produced it. This was and is one of the biggest mistakes of the digital world. Networks are flooded with profiles of "users" that we do not know who they are. They can be robots, but behind them are individuals and groups that maliciously and cowardly link false or prejudiced information. If each profile is real and traceable, as in the real world, many of the problems disappear. Freedom of expression is not a blank check, it requires personal responsibility, and until this issue is overcome, we will always be inundated with false, prejudiced, and biased information. Thus, technology companies are not the only ones responsible - not even the algorithms - but any organization, interest group, or individual that produces such content. They need to be identified and held accountable.

 

Empathy, Diversity, and Inclusion

It is essential to encourage diversity and inclusion in all areas of society. Diversity involves the representation of different perspectives and experiences, while inclusion involves the creation of safe and welcoming spaces for all people, regardless of their "tribe" (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion or social origin, ideological trend, club or any other). By promoting diversity and inclusion, we can ensure that more people are represented and involved. It is also fundamental to practice empathy, essential to combat intolerance. We must strive to understand the viewpoints of others, even if we do not agree with them. This helps us to see issues from different angles and to avoid closing ourselves off in our own perspective.

 

In conclusion, we must fight to not only be presented with yellow birds. We need to understand how this new world works, so as not to be manipulated. We have to consciously seek out birds of other colors, and fundamentally accept them. We need to hold harmful behavior on social media accountable and fight for transparency. We need to be more empathetic and inclusive. The challenges are great, and the new intelligent systems, despite all their positive potential, can also reinforce the arsenal of disinformation, prejudices, and fundamentalisms. If we want to turn the tide of disinformation and intolerance, we need to be more critical, media-educated, think for ourselves, always look for other points of view, and accept that the world is diverse and plural - and that's a good thing!

Pedro Seabra
CEO, Partner and Co-founder
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