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Ross: Here comes the COVID sequel

Anti vaccination activists protest the proof of vaccination requirement to get into the Foo Fighters show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

I’m having trouble with being forced to watch COVID: The Sequel.

University of Washington Professor Carl Bergstrom has educated me on this — he wants me to understand that social media is purposely designed to surround people with their personal version of what’s true:

“First of all, the entire platform is designed to keep us engaged, keep us enraged,” Bergstrom said. “What’s doing the editorial work is not humans, but algorithms, and they are these algorithms that are learning what kinds of content keep us up until one in the morning when we planned to go to sleep at 11. And those algorithms are the ones that are pushing certain kinds of information at the expense of others.”

I keep saying people are free to research what’s true and what isn’t, but he says no — it’s like being kidnapped by a cult:

“Blaming people for being skeptical of vaccines once they’re immersed in that Q-Anon media ecosystem, or whatever is it, is sort of like blaming people in North Korea for living under a repressive regime.”

When I was growing up, we were not surrounded by newsfeeds. Broadcast stations actually signed off at the end of the day. Went dark! As in, you had to read a book or actually talk to whoever was in the room!

And when they were on, the news tended to be stuff that career journalists thought was important.

I eventually became one of those people deciding what to broadcast, and I would ignore tips that couldn’t be officially verified. But that system also had drawbacks: Back in the day, when I’d get a tip that police were beating up people just because of their skin color — I wasn’t going to follow up, because there was no official report. Of course, now we know why.

Social media eventually pushed sticklers like me out of the way and got the truth out about what was happening.

But as usual, the pendulum always swings too far, and now we have the Facebook newsfeed, which, all on its own, becomes this digital IV drip feeding you what it thinks will keep you engaged.

That’s what Professor Bergstrom would change:

“Giving people the right to choose their own feed instead of having these algorithms pushing information upon us.”

Because keeping people outraged is all in good fun until something like COVID comes along and you end up in the ICU for believing what was pushed onto your screen — just to keep you watching.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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