How social media deceives you with fake logic

One of my pet peeves is the way logic is misused in some social media. It happens a lot, as far as I can tell on the subjective evidence of my Facebook feed.

Beach stones, Makara, New Zealand.

The way it works is like this. Somebody comes up with a postulate about something specific, which they then use to ‘disprove’ a general principle or idea system. The problem, of course, is that one does not necessarily follow the other. The problem is called the ‘fallacy of composition’, in which a single-point assertion is taken to represent the whole, thus invalidating the whole when proven false. For example: ‘Cow hooves are made of wood, therefore all cows are entirely made of wood and anybody who says otherwise is wrong’.

I see quite a bit of it on social media – often political, or medical or dietary, or to do with mysticism, often to do with religion versus atheists; and all of them involving – when it boils down to it – acts of faith in belief systems of various kinds and types.

In a fair number of the social media examples I’ve seen, the issue is rendered even more absurd because the assertion being used to ‘disprove’ somebody else’s belief system is, itself, often simply a conviction that something is true (for example, ‘I believe the Earth is flat irrespective of all evidence to the contrary’). The problem comes when people holding a given conviction then regard this as not just a personal truth (which they are perfectly entitled to do), but an abstract universal reality that everybody else has to either agree with, or be attacked.

All of this seems fairly fundamental to the human condition, and appears in all sorts of ways. And work has been done to show how this likely came about via evolutionary process and a long hunter-gatherer history involving small(ish) groups.

What concerns me about all this today is that it is streets away from reasonable discussion. And that, it seems to me, is one of the causes of so much trouble in the world today.

People don’t discuss; they play zero-sum games in which their world-view is unassailably right, and they have to utterly destroy anything that threatens it. This kind of logic-flaw approach is the way it is often portrayed, though there are others.

And I have to wonder. What’s wrong with reasonable discussion? I recall, years ago, watching a debate between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Runcie, engaging in just such a debate – atheism versus religion. It was civilly conducted and, in point of fact, they seemed to agree on quite a lot. Except, of course, one key point – but they didn’t get abusive and angry about it. Each of them respected the other’s position.

Humanity has a plurality of views, of belief systems, and of position. All of them are founded in the human condition. And reason, tolerance and discussion with respect for each other’s position go a long way. Thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018

12 thoughts on “How social media deceives you with fake logic

  1. I love how sometimes your last word/sentence, “Thoughts?” could effectively open up a fairly significant slice of the Universe.

    As in this particular post!

    Gosh, I wish I could offer something new on this subject! I’d either win the Nobel Prize for something or get lynched or both.

    But what I really think is this: rational thought requires both discipline and habitual use. It isn’t really easy, and it’s a different, sometimes less comfortable way of viewing the world than otherwise. The fact that it can provide a key to unlock previously unknown and barely guessed-at realms of knowledge doesn’t seem to matter to a significant portion of humanity.

    Maybe figuring out WHY it doesn’t matter would be the key to doing something about it. And, maybe, that would take a number of folks capable of the discipline and habitual use of rational thought to divert themselves from what may be the focus of their lives — say, for example, any flavor of scientist — onto this particular field of endeavor. (Endeavour?)

    On the other hand that might require the development of a human psychology devoid of “woo.” I don’t see that as impossible, merely terribly difficult.

    So…thoughts? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wish I could disagree. Sadly the methodology of debate has veered away from logic to one of winning at any cost. Recently had a ‘debate’ with someone on Twitter, and as soon as some of my points [logical] began to bite, the response became emotive. It didn’t work on me, but I can see how it would work on younger, less grumpy old ladies, or men.
      The worst part is that this same mentality has spread to all areas of competitive endeavour, including sport. I’m not into cricket, but I too was shocked to learn that my Aussie cricket team would stoop to cheating just to win. Merit seems to have gone out the window along with logic. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think it’s the sort of mentality where “win at any cost” takes over, sort of like, if money comes into my bank account, it doesn’t matter at all how it got there, which also seems to be a fairly prevalent attitude.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes. 😦 I’ll bet it become a problem if they’re accused of money laundering though.
          I know these traits are all part and parcel of being human, but the checks and balances normally applied by society seem to be slipping, or missing altogether. :/

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I agree. There’s been a ‘normalisation’ of behaviours that would have been frowned on a generation ago, and rightly so. There’s nothing unusual about generational change, but in this case I think it’s been shaped, at least in part, by the ubiquity of technology and the social media revolution.


  2. I often think “what is wrong with reasonable discussion”- just the other day I watched a professional debate that devolved into one side attacking the other with ad hominems and was appalled. I’m beginning to wonder if I imagined that debates used to be underpinned by civility (although I’ve watched many Richard Dawkins debates and don’t remember him ever resorting to such tactics).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see a lot of that too. It’s also apparently the default way that many book reviewers respond, at least here in New Zealand. Not a great advertisement for the human condition. Sigh…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think social media rewards the quick, thoughtless reaction and encourages users to categorize themselves for or against something. Thinking before you click takes too long and is perceived as too much trouble. Simple and easy is preferred to complicated and murky. Maybe this taps into a primitive “us or them” impulse that is inadequate for present day complex issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right. That speed of response – firing off a few ill-thought words before moving on to the next part of the endless social media flow – has to tap into a deeper thread of psyche. I did read something once suggesting that one of the reasons why Facebook groups (particularly) seem to so relentlessly descend into abusive argument is because the ‘content style’ of what’s being written is well suited to verbal discussion (albeit perhaps heated) – it’s said, with a lot of body cues and other things – and then the conversation moves on. Whereas written material has more of a sense of permanency, and is one that readers can parse (and mis-parse) for meanings. The dissonance makes the FB arguments worse. I’ve seen it myself on Facebook, which is why I don’t contribute much to groups; and I don’t doubt that other social media has the same problem… but I do try to avoid those places so I can’t say for sure on personal experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Matthew,

    exposing my liberal point-of-view, this one, which i’ve used for the last decade or so, “We liberals have one value (today’s) conservatives don’t share: we uphold your right to your opinion, regardless of how idiotic it may be” The other side of that coin, while there may be liberals (so-called) who view another opinion as an existential threat, in today’s world, engaged conservatives who _don’t_ hold that view are rarer than german soldiers who fought on the western front.

    ~ Marty McGowan


    1. Hi Marty, thanks for reading the post and for your thoughts. I think the ‘liberal/thoughtful/tolerant’, ‘conservative/dogmatic/intolerant’ split is one way that humanity is expressed in western society, and while it’s possible to find authoritarian and intolerant liberals, tolerant conservatives are, as you say, getting pretty rare these days. To me, the whole is an expression of a deeper human reality – the devices by which people authenticate their own sense of self-worth. I hesitate to call it ‘ego’ in the Jungian sense. Behaviours such as liberalism and so forth are wrapped around it and given further shape by social trend – hence the phenomenon of the intolerant liberal (which I ran into as a student at university, way back when). I think that the extremes, particularly of unthinking polemic (often ‘conservative’) have been getting more intense in the last thirty-odd years. To me, kindness, tolerance and thoughtfulness always pay dividends: but as Karl Popper once put it, while tolerance is a virtue, we must reserve a little intolerance in order to put intolerance itself in its place.


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