Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Platforming vs Interviewing

Lately, Megyn Kelly has been under fire for deciding to have Alex Jones on for an interview. This has brought the discussion of platforming individuals with reprehensible opinions to the forefront of our discourse.

The argument that a good number of people, as well as some of the victims of Sandy Hook, have made is that having Alex Jones on a mainstream show, is an unforgivable offence. Alex Jones' position on Sandy Hook is that it never happened and that it was a government fabrication to push an agenda.

Alex Jones, creator of Inowars, has used this kind of preposterous agitprop and has gained an audience on YouTube to the tune of 2 million people. The argument people are reaching for is that by "platforming" this madman, it will somehow make this problem worse. This is not completely unreasonable however, their position is not supported by what cognitive science has produced.

Studies show that information, when consumed with limited biases, is likely to stick, to the point where any future corrections, will be met by resistance. Here's an example of such a study by Wilkes and Leatherbarrow from 1988. They presented subjects with news reports regarding a warehouse fire, informing them that a closet full of paint cans and gas cylinders were the cause. They were then supplied with a correction stating that the closet was, in fact, empty. When the subjects were asked to then explain what caused the fire, they mentioned that it was the paint cans in the closet. This is even when they acknowledged the correction. Their conclusions were statistically at parity with those who did not see the correction at all.

What this shows is that our brains are incredibly susceptible to first impressions and initial information. Knowing this, the position that Megyn Kelly should not interview Alex Jones, becomes untenable.

Having recently watched her interview with Vladimir Putin, it's crystal clear that she is in no way a softball interviewer. Whilst moderating an economic event in St Petersburg, she did not shy away from questioning Putin, in front of hundreds of people, regarding Russian involvement with hacking. This should put to rest any doubt in someone's mind of her capabilities regarding the interviewing process.

It would be far more effective if people's first impressions of Alex Jones would be left in the hands of Megyn Kelly vs letting people discover Alex Jones with their own devices. Unless she completely abandons what was seen in her interview with Putin, there is absolutely no way anyone will see Alex Jones in a good light.   And that should be the ultimate goal.

Someone like Alex Jones, having an audience to the tune of 2 million people, should give everyone pause. The level of misinformation that he and his ilk are producing is a serious problem and, trying to tackle this with current methods of debunking, ineffective as I've demonstrated in my backfire effect video. Having someone like Megyn Kelly, who doesn't even shy away in front of an audience, whilst questioning someone like Putin, is extremely valuable in the landscape of misinformation.

 The only instance where someone is effectively platformed is when that individual has free reign to spout whatever factually deficient nonsense they believe in, unchallenged,  A great example of this would be the Rubin Report with Dave Rubin. Another would be learning institutes and their subgroups inviting people like Lauren Southern on, who uses blogs as her sources for her "informed opinions". Only in these and similar cases, is the argument against platforming, a valid one.

Recognising these differences and being aware of what helps or harms one's cause, is the only way people will be able to curb bad ideas in this information age. In this case, Megyn Kelly is providing a unique service which I fear will be stifled and ultimately lead us in the same predicament as before, regardless of good intentions. People need to stop actively using the word "platforming" as blanket excuse to prevent anyone with terrible ideas from speaking but instead, encourage them to speak as long as their intellectually bankrupt ideas are challenged by someone as adept as Megyn Kelly. To do otherwise, is self defeating.