Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Brandon delusion

 If you’ve been on the internet much lately, you’ve probably seen the “Let’s go Brandon” memes. It took me a couple of days to summon the curiosity to look up the details of the meme, but here’s the story.

The short version is that a NASCAR driver named Brandon Brown won the Xfinity Series and was being interviewed by an NBC Sports reporter. During the interview, the crowd was chanting in the background, and the reporter claimed that the crowd was yelling, “Let’s go, Brandon.”

Well, it turns out that wasn’t the case. In reality, the crowd was yelling, “F- Joe Biden,” and a meme was born.

I don’t know what the reporter, Kelli Stavast, was thinking as she did the interview. Her reaction to the chant has been variously described as a “smooth save,” ”awkward,” and “hilarious.” It was the hilarious route that Republicans chose to take with a new wave of memes.

Maybe Stavast wanted to protect Brandon Brown’s dignity in his moment of victory. Maybe she wanted to protect Biden from embarrassment. Maybe she wanted to protect the crowd from having its own boorish behavior spread across national television. Maybe she even really thought that the crowd was cheering Brandon. Whatever Stavast’s motive, it backfired.

The “Let’s go Brandon” meme is a good follow-on to my recent piece about the lost art of persuasion. The Republicans in the crowd at Talladega (and in many other places where the chant has been taken up in recent months) are so confident in their hatred of Joe Biden that they are not concerned with what the rest of the country thinks because it’s obvious that everyone thinks like them. Or at least everyone who matters.

The attitude is reminiscent of Pauline Kael, who was famously misquoted as having said, "I can't believe Nixon won. I don't know anyone who voted for him." That is the exact attitude of the Trump Republicans who can’t believe that Trump lost or that “Sleepy Joe” won 82 million votes because nobody they know voted for him and nobody went to his rallies (which he mostly didn’t have because of the pandemic, but don’t confuse the issue with facts).

The truth is that they probably do know someone who voted Biden. They just don’t know it. Quite a few red and purple state Republicans, conservatives, and moderates probably voted Biden but didn’t necessarily brag about it. And why not? The behavior of the mob should answer that question.

The raucous and offensive behavior of the “Let’s go Brandon” mobs may well confirm the misgivings of those closet Biden voters who were concerned not only about Trump’s behavior but the behavior of his supporters as well. If all politics is local, then when you see your friends and neighbors acting scary, you may not stick your head up for fear of getting it chopped off but you don’t necessarily sign up to join the mob either. Quietly voting for the other party is a way to passively resist, however.

If NASCAR and other sporting associations want to keep their venues family-friendly, they need to find a way to rein in these obscene cheers. This offensive behavior is what I’d expect from radical leftists who revel in disrupting events for their own amusement. It is not conservative behavior.

And what of the Christian conservatives? Some of the extremely partisan churchgoers may be okay with political behavior that flouts Biblical admonitions to have “no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking” (Ephesians 5:4) or to put “away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8), but maybe others aren’t.

Maybe the offensive behavior, of their friends and neighbors if not of Trump, will wake rank-and-file Christians up to the fact that the GOP is no longer the family values party that it used to be. What would your pastor or Sunday School teacher say if they knew that you were in the crowd yelling, “F- Joe Biden?”

For that matter, what would you do if it was your pastor or Sunday School teacher taking part in the chant? I suspect that plenty of clergy and church officials joined in.

The bad behavior of so many Christians over the past few years is enough to spawn questions about the validity of the faith. If I thought that all Christians were vitriolic, conspiracy-minded radicals who cast the Ten Commandments aside when it comes to Supreme Court appointments or abortion policy, I wouldn’t want to be part of it either.

The good news is that the bad behavior of Christians doesn’t undermine the core truths of Christianity. The bad news is that it can make the Gospel less attractive to the unchurched and the churched alike.

In the intervening days, we moved from Kelli Stavast’s delusion to a MAGA delusion. After Southwest Airlines suffered a plethora of canceled flights over the weekend, the idea spread online that resistance to the vaccine mandates led to the spate of cancellations. This led to a new wave of memes that married “Let’s go Brandon” to Southwest.

The Great Southwest Vaccine Revolt seems to have been a delusion as well, however. The first clue was that Southwest was the only airline suffering difficulties over the weekend. The second was that Spirit Airlines had a similar meltdown back in August, a full two months before its CEO announced the company would mandate vaccinations for its employees. In fact, Southwest had another meltdown back in June due to widespread computer problems.

The death knell for the Southwest Brandon meme should have been the fact that sick calls last weekend were on par with a normal weekend as Capt. Casey Murray of the Southwest Pilots Association, the airline’s pilot union, related to WGN. Murray added that pickup rates, the rate at which crewmembers pick up extra trips on their off days, are near an all-time high. Not only were there not increased sick calls, many crewmembers are working extra trips for extra money. This is the opposite of an intentional slowdown.

So what did cause Southwest’s meltdown? I’ve mentioned the error chain concept before and it seems to be the case here that there was no single factor but a confluence of several things going wrong at once.

Southwest said that the difficulties started with weather problems and short staffing of air traffic control facilities in Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center is responsible for traffic throughout northern Florida and south Georgia. When things started going wrong and flights started canceling, crews started exceeding their duty times. These are federally mandated limits (which union contracts may shorten further) and the crews are required to go into rest when they reach their maximum duty limit. When this started to happen, Southwest’s airliners were stranded across the country without crews to man them.

tweet from the FAA confirmed that there were ATC staffing shortages on Friday that were complicated by weather and military training. A subtweet added that “some airlines [emphasis mine] continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.”

If it’s ridiculous to believe Kelli Stavast’s “Let’s go Brandon” excuse then it’s also ridiculous to believe, against the evidence, that Southwest’s problems were part of a popular uprising. The fact is that so far very few employees that are subject to mandates are choosing to put conspiracy fears over their jobs.

The moral of the story is that, as Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” The exception seems to be if there is video that undercuts the false claims. That is easier to do with a misquoted chant than with a complex situation like a series of airline cancellations.


Congratulations are in order to the Atlanta Braves who won their division title last night. 2021 is proving to be a good year for Georgia sports fans after the Georgia Bulldogs moved to first place in the college football rankings.

In Georgia, we are used to disappointments, but I have a good feeling this year. Especially about the Bulldogs.

From the Racket

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The lost art of persuasion

 Not long ago, I was hanging out on Twitter, as I probably do way too much. I posted a comment on someone’s tweet and got back a response from a third party that said something to the effect of, “You are mistaken, sir.”

I pointed out the error in the poster’s response and his next reply was to call me “a retard.”

As Ron Burgundy famously said, “That escalated quickly.”

The incident stuck in my mind because it is a good example of how both sides debate these days. There might be a perfunctory attempt to argue the facts, but discussions with most people quickly degenerate to name-calling. This is especially true on the internet but it also happens in real life. For example, I remember earlier this year when my barber got very upset because I didn’t believe COVID vaccines were the Mark of the Beast. I ended up leaving mid-haircut to avoid a very visible and long lasting outcome.

In politics, you’d think that there would be an interest in converting lukewarm members of the other side. After all, politics is a numbers game. The one with the most votes wins the election and the side with the most votes in Congress gets their priorities passed. Well, they get them passed at least some of the time, taking the filibuster into account.

Maybe the problem is that people don’t realize the fundamental mathematic truths of the political world. The idea that government shutdowns can work is an argument in favor of this hypothesis since shutting the government down does nothing to alter the calculus of the situation, to use Barack Obama’s phrase.

On the other hand, there also seems to be a belief that everyone is hardened in their point of view and that minds cannot be changed. I’ve had people on both sides deny to me that there are any undecided voters, at least not in numbers that matter. These days, both sides view every election as a turnout election.

In that world, who cares if you offend someone who disagrees with you? After all, they were going to vote against you anyway.

There are a couple of other possibilities as well. One is that people might think that browbeating their debate opponents will intimidate them into changing their minds. Another uncharitable possibility is that a lot of internet debaters just aren’t that smart and after they regurgitate their talking points, they have nothing to fall back on aside from personal attacks.

Whatever the reason, personal attacks against possibly persuadable voters can end up backfiring. I noticed a long time ago that polling shows that neither conservatives nor liberals have a majority in any of the 50 states. A 2019 Gallup poll showed that Mississippi was the exception with 50 percent of respondents claiming to be conservative. For at least 49 states, however, both parties have to win over some moderate voters outside their ideological bases.

All that is another way of saying that moderates are the ultimate deciders of elections. As you look at pre-election polls, very often neither candidate polls at more than 50 percent. In those cases, it is the undecided voters who wait until the last minute to make a decision that determine the ultimate outcome of the election.

And it might be that quite a few of those voters have been turned off from one side or the other by people who called them a “RINO,” a “fascist,” a “communist,” a “racist,” a “socialist,” or a “retard.” Maybe the armchair political warriors think that insulting potential voters will win them over, but it’s more likely that the attacks only harden them into their old beliefs. An old saying that, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” seems to have been forgotten by participants of the flame wars.

Physiology is at work here as well. I recently took a leadership course that touched on interpersonal communications and one of the topics that was covered was emotional flooding. When we get into a heated argument, it provokes a fight-or-flight response, our heart rate rises, and we stop thinking rationally. A consequence of this phenomenon is that tensions escalate and well-meaning people can end up calling strangers on the internet a “poopyhead.”

It would be better to heed Samuel Johnson’s warning that, “You raise your voice when you should reinforce your argument.”

There are times when it is appropriate to raise your voice, but there are some things that speaking louder cannot do. For instance, if someone doesn’t speak your language, speaking up won’t help matters. (Why do we do that?) Likewise, getting loud and angry won’t make up for a dearth of facts in your argument.

Internet trolls will probably never go away, but social media political warriors who actually want to help their side rather than just own the opposition might want to reconsider their online strategies. When in doubt, it might be wise to follow the advice of Hippocrates (rather than hypocrites), who said, “First, do harm.”

In this context, that would likely mean ignoring a post that you disagree with rather than unloading on them. It might also mean choosing your battles and only engaging with people who seem persuadable or cutting your losses and ending the conversation before you (or they) get emotionally flooded. Not getting the last word is not an indication of weakness. Instead, it can show maturity.

The truth is that no one wins political arguments except by winning votes. No matter how many clickbait headlines talk about people being “destroyed” by snappy comebacks, no one is ever destroyed. Both sides claim victory and return to spar again the next day.

It’s difficult to win someone over to your point of view if you have to resort to insults. It’s even more difficult win over converts if don’t even try.


You may have already seen Steve’s article noting that we are going to scale back our posting at the Racket News. For close to a year now, we’ve posted almost every day and it has been very time consuming for the two of us. We haven’t monetized the site so at this point, it’s purely a labor of love.

On my side, the pandemic has helped my production at the site. As most of you already know, I have a full-time job as a corporate pilot. During the pandemic, our schedules have been a lot slower than usual, but things are moving back towards normal, leaving me with less time to write.

We aren’t going away, but we won’t be in your in-box quite as often. Scaling back a bit will help us to ensure that the articles that we do send out are high quality and not fluff. If we don’t have something relevant to say, we won’t waste your time.

We’d still like to grow Racket News as well. As always, we really appreciate your shares and recommendations. We also like to get your feedback.

I’ll add that I read the comments on Steve’s piece and was touched and honored. Thanks to all of you for your support.

From the Racket

Friday, October 8, 2021

Could the filibuster crash the economy? (Or save it?)

 The filibuster has sparked a lot of alternating concern and angst in recent years. Republicans/Democrats lobby to remove the legislative rule while their party is in power and then the Democrats/Republicans view it as an essential tool of democracy when they are in the minority. Both parties have a love/hate relationship with the Senate tradition while chipping away at its protections. That is the case again this week.

Photo by Ussama Azam on Unsplash

The latest on the debt ceiling fight is that Democrats are considering a change to Senate rules that would eliminate the filibuster for legislation that would raise the debt ceiling. It isn’t clear if such a change would be permanent or apply only to the current debt ceiling bill, but the change would allow Senate Democrats to overcome a Republican filibuster that has moved the federal government closer to a national default.

In a blatantly partisan but nonetheless true tweet, Andrew Weinstein observed, “It turns out that the people who opposed COVID restrictions and mandates to ‘save the economy’ are now perfectly fine with defaulting on our debt just because the current president is a Democrat.”

Ouch. But the fact is that the GOP resistance to raising the debt limit does seem decidedly partisan as well. After all, Republicans gave Donald Trump a holiday from the debt ceiling while adding $7.8 trillion to the national debt during The Former Guy’s term.

I’m against removing the filibuster, but its days are probably numbered. In fact, I noticed that I wrote at least two pieces during my days at The Resurgent with that title. One was in 2016 and the other in 2019. (Hey, if it works, stick with it.) In the latter, I predicted that the filibuster would die “the death of a thousand cuts” as the parties whittle away at it slowly. The current proposal could be another step in that process.

However, one man stands in the way. Joe Manchin (D-W.V) has reiterated, "I've been very, very clear where I stand, where I stand on the filibuster. Nothing’s changing.”

That statement would seem to preclude even a temporary change, much less a permanent carveout. Manchin could possibly be persuaded to change his mind, but that seems less and less likely as time goes on.

It’s true that the Democrats could pass the debt ceiling bill by themselves with a budget reconciliation, but it’s also true that they shouldn’t have to. Paying the bills for spending that has already been appropriated by Congress is one of the federal government’s most basic duties. And the fact that Republicans, who are normally thought of as the more fiscally responsible party, are driving the country closer to default by refusing to even negotiate for an increase to the borrowing limit shows how far the party has devolved.

If I was a Democrat, I would look very closely at combining the debt ceiling legislation with a pared-back human infrastructure bill that could win the support of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. The kicker is that instead of raising the debt ceiling, I would eliminate it. (Alternatively, it could be raised to an absurdly high level so that it would not exist for practical purposes. On Twitter, Matt Gertz suggested raising the debt ceiling to $1776 googolplex, which should last us a while.)

Eliminating the debt ceiling would eliminate the semi-routine battles over raising the borrowing limit and put the focus on congressional approval of the spending bills where it belongs. If Congress never appropriates the money, no harm no foul. But if Congress refuses to pay for programs that it has already authorized, that is where we get into the problem of a possible national default. It makes much more sense for Congress to “just say no” to new spending than to spend the money and then let the bills go unpaid.

Granted, a lot of federal spending that needs to be cut is on autopilot and would be hard to cut, but defaulting on the debt does not actually cut the spending either. Not paying for automatic spending does not eliminate that spending, it just drives up the total debt.

It’s like when you have automatic debits set up for your bank account. If you don’t put money in the account before they draft your car payment, it doesn’t mean that you no longer owe that money. It just means that you are in the hole for not only the scheduled payment but also overdraft and late fees.

Although I’m a defender of the filibuster, I don’t like to see the tool abused. I believe that it should be used only in certain circumstances. It shouldn’t be used to grind the routine business of Congress to a halt but only to stop radically dangerous legislation. Think of it as an emergency brake rather than as an anchor.

To that end, there might need to be changes made to prevent filibuster abuse. Eliminating the filibuster on debt ceiling legislation would certainly fall into that category because we know that the debt limit is going to be increased at some point, hopefully before a default. Bypassing the filibuster to avoid crashing the economy in a game of fiscal chicken would be an acceptable change in my book.

The problem is that I don’t trust either party to (a) limit the exceptions or (b) not abuse the process. To start chipping away at the filibuster would probably mean the end of the filibuster in short order.

I’d much rather see the end of the debt ceiling. If you appropriate the money for something then just assume that it’s okay to pay for it, even if that requires deficit spending.

And while deficit spending is a problem, defaulting on the debt, with all the catastrophic consequences that would bring, is a much bigger problem. Spending and borrowing need to be cut, but the talk of doing it through a default is crazy talk.

If it came down to a default or saying goodby to the filibuster, I’d have to go with avoiding default. Neither is a particularly appealing option, but the devastation left by a national credit crisis would probably mean the end of the filibuster anyway. If one party (and I’m not just singling out Republicans because Democrats have done the same thing in the past) filibusters us into a default, at some point the adults in the room are going to rally and say, “Enough is enough.”

If the filibuster is eliminated, it might well mean that Democrats could ram through a radical leftist agenda with 51 votes, but it would also mean that Republicans would need only 51 votes to ram it back the other way. The reverse would also be true.

Who knows? Maybe after a period of veering wildly from one extreme to the other, we would stop sending wannabe internet influencers to Washington and find some statesmen who have the ability to work together for the common good. Don’t laugh! It could happen!

In the meantime, Mitch McConnell seems to have realized the danger that the country and the Republican Party are in. McConnell announced on Tuesday that Republicans would support a deal that would kick the debt ceiling can down the road… two months. Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Minority Leader has consented to allow the country’s bills to be paid until December. I would not be surprised if the possibility of losing the filibuster entered into McConnell’s calculations as he offered the deal.

Many Republicans will consider it a loss if the deal goes through. And it will be. Because Republicans once again picked an unwinnable fight and an indefensible hill to die on. In the debt ceiling battle, they will either surrender or get blamed for crashing the economy. It’s a rock or hard place situation.

The debt ceiling will be raised, one way or the other. It only remains to be seen whether the filibuster will be a casualty of the battle.

From the Racket

Why should conservatives continue to support Republicans?

 As many of my ramblings do, this one started on Twitter. In a recent escapade, a friend was angry about Evan McMullin’s decision to challenge Utah Republican Mike Lee for his Senate seat next year.

If Evan McMullin’s name doesn’t ring a bell, allow me to refresh you. Back in 2016, when the Republican Party wasn’t entirely on the Trump Train, McMullin launched an independent bid for president to serve as an alternative to both of the deeply flawed major party candidates. After a brief surge, McMullin’s third-party candidacy ended as almost all third-party candidacies do.

Photo by Ghaith Harstany on Unsplash

Fast forward to 2021 and McMullin is back. The former CIA officer announced earlier this week that he will launch another independent campaign, this time targeting Senator Lee, who typically wins re-election by a large margin.

In the interests of full disclosure, I voted for McMullin. I never had any illusions about his chances of winning, but I viewed him as an acceptable protest vote against both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Five years later, I don’t agree with everything that McMullin has said or done, but I don’t regret my vote either.

So, why should conservatives consider supporting an outsider against someone like Mike Lee, who has a 95 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, 94 percent from Conservative Review, and 100 percent from National Right to Life? I would submit that it is because Mike Lee, like a great many other Republicans, failed to step up and hold The Former Guy accountable to the Constitution when it mattered. Those ratings do not take into account whether senators voted to uphold Donald Trump’s abuses of power.

Despite the evidence against the former president, Lee voted to acquit Donald Trump in both impeachments and was conspicuously silent as Trump and his lawyers tried to throw out the 2020 election results. Many Republicans clucked about Trump’s excesses, but when the chips were down, most of them had his back.

To his credit, Lee did part ways with Trump on a number of issues. Notably, he voted against the objections to Arizona and Pennsylvania electors and to overturn Trump’s use of a national emergency to fund the border wall. FiveThirtyEight gives Lee a 73 percent career Trump score, which ironically would be low enough to anger many Trump supporters.

But, on the other hand, despite Trump’s abuses of power, Lee endorsed him in the 2020 election and voted against convicting him for his role in the attempt to steal the election that culminated in the January 6 coup attempt. Lee was not the worst Republican of the Trump years, but that doesn’t mean he was good.

And that’s the real danger of sending people like Lee back to Washington. In a moment of political crisis that surpassed any domestic threat since the Civil War, Lee and others who claim to be constitutionalists looked the other way as Donald Trump pressured Vice President Pence to toss out the electoral votes of multiple states for no other reason than that he didn’t like the result.

The inaction of Lee and others looks worse as new details emerge. The Senate Judiciary Committee this week issued findings that Donald Trump had attempted to pressure senior Justice Department officials into going along with his stolen election farce. Trump’s plan was only stopped by the threat of mass resignations in the DOJ.

The point here is that if we can’t trust Lee and other Republicans to stave off a coup attempt by a corrupt president, what can we trust them for? To vote against abortion? Probably. To vote for the good of the country over party? Definitely not.

Mike Lee is far from alone in this. Even as Trump’s nefarious deeds meet the disinfectant of bright sunlight, Republicans are hesitant to speak ill of He Who Is No Longer On Twitter. For instance, Nikki Haley, long considered as someone who might be able to bridge the divide between anti-Trump traditional Republicans and the Trump base, was recently critical of Trump’s behavior but then said, “We need him in the Republican Party. I don't want us to go back to the days before Trump.”

I do.

And Haley and the others can’t have it both ways. They can’t condemn Trump’s abuses of power and then give him a place of prominence in the party. That’s schizophrenic. A Republican Party that is led by Donald Trump cannot be a constitutional party.

A lot of people don’t realize or accept this, however, and I have a hard time understanding why so many conservative Trump critics can blithely separate Donald Trump from the army of Republicans who enabled him, covered for him, and looked the other way.

While a pro-life voting record and talking the conservative talk are good things, they aren’t nearly as important as standing up to a rogue president. As I’ve stated before, Trump’s attempt to steal the election would likely not have worked, but it could easily have touched off widespread political violence. Lee and Trump’s other Republican enablers would have been partly responsible for that. They are partly responsible for Trump’s popularity today in that they helped give him an air of invincibility after cheating impeachment twice.

It may be that a lot of people on the right didn’t object to Trump’s way of doing business as much as they objected to him personally. In other words, maybe these people don’t have a problem with populism, dishonesty, and abusing authority to own the libs as long as the Republican doing it has a little class and isn’t as abrasive as Trump. So, if, say, Ron DeSantis wants to attack free speech online or Greg Abbott wants to set a precedent of having laws enforced by frivolous lawsuits, they’re okay with that. For these people, maybe it was all about Trump’s mean tweets.

On the other hand, for those conservatives who stand by principles of limited government and the rule of law, it leaves the question of why we should support a party that is increasingly trumpy in its DNA. Lee, along with DeSantis and Abbott, may be conservative in many respects, but he failed the ultimate test of fighting against an attempt to tear down the Constitution by throwing out the results of a presidential election. And as the dirt on Trump’s actions emerges all three stick their heads into the sand for fear of offending Trump’s base. Lee even opposed the creation of the January 6 commission.

I’m not endorsing McMullin and I’m certainly not endorsing Lee, but I do applaud any attempts to bring the focus of elections, including Republican primaries, back toward traditional Republicanism. If Lee has to distance himself from Trump to take on the conservative attack from McMullin, that will be a win in itself.

If conservatives want to see the Republican Party restored as a conservative party, we need to stop falling for the clickbait attacks on the other side while defending the Republicans whose inaction got us to this point. Republican officials refused to hold Donald Trump accountable and now they should be held accountable for that failure and for their continued obeisance to Donald Trump.

In the short term, that’s going to mean some pain. I’m not a fan of the Democratic agenda, but I have realized that the Republican assault on elections and the Constitution is much more dangerous in the short term than wokeness or liberal spending.

While I’m not in support of those things, the current Republican Party has attacked the very foundations of our Republic and constitutional system. And Mike Lee and the majority of Republicans in Congress stood idly by or actively backed Trump in this assault.

Keep that in mind as you vote next year.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Is it time to regulate Facebook?

 I’ve argued in the past against regulation of social media on numerous occasions. The recent testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is pretty persuasive evidence that something needs to be done about the company, however.

To be clear, I still don’t support rewriting Section 230 to mandate fairness on social media. I agree with Facebook and Twitter’s decisions to ban Donald Trump from their platforms and to enforce their own community standards. As I’ve said in the past, these are private platforms and they have the right to set their own rules. That was true even when Facebook deleted a political page that I had operated for more than a decade.

Photo by on Unsplash

Rather than viewpoint discrimination, the real danger of social media is the prospect of the platforms spreading mental illness and deepening our political divisions. These allegations are among the claims made by Haugen, many of which are backed up by internal company documents that she took before leaving Facebook last May.

While it is not the government’s job to regulate the hurt feelings of private citizens who are ejected from private platforms, public health and national security do fall directly under government jurisdiction. Haugen’s allegations, along with documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, show that Facebook negatively affects mental health and national security are areas where government regulation is appropriate, unlike free speech claims against private entities.

Internal documents released over the past few weeks show that Facebook targeted teenage girls with its Instagram app even though it was aware that its algorithms steered them to topics that caused about a third to experience anxiety and depression. Alarmingly, about six percent of teens who reported suicidal thoughts said that the idea originated on Instagram. Reports that some teens say Instagram improves their self-image do not overcome this chilling fact.

Beyond that, engineers design social media sites to be addictive. They want to keep you engaged so that you keep scrolling and keep seeing ads. We engage on social media at the expense of real world interactions. As a result, we are both more connected and more isolated than ever before.

On top of that, Facebook’s attempts to increase “meaningful social interactions” (MSIs) between family members and friends backfired in a big way. An algorithm change meant to encourage people to interact rather than just read content online caused content creators to shift toward “clickbait” posts that were full of outrage and sensationalism. These posts generated lots of comments and shares, but they also generated a lot of anger.

As David French recently pointed out, Democrats and Republicans agree on a lot of issues yet both sides see the other as radicals who threaten America’s very existence. The sensationalist clickbait makes us focus on our differences rather than what we have in common. This drives us farther apart and deepens our divisions.

“Our approach has had unhealthy side effects on important slices of public content, such as politics and news,” a team of Facebook scientists said in documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, calling the problem “an increasing liability.”

Further, Facebook was also aware that its platform was being used for nefarious purposes from sex trafficking to inciting violence against minorities to organ selling to pornography to governments quashing political dissent and of course, the widespread dissemination of misinformation and conspiracy theories. There is also evidence that Facebook was used by the January 6 insurrection plotters. Leaked documents show that Facebook was aware of these problems and failed to take action to stop them.

“I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profit and our safety. Facebook consistently resolved these conflicts in favor of its own profits,” Haugen said in her testimony. “As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable. Until the incentives change, Facebook will not change.”

The picture painted by Haugen’s testimony is of an evil corporation bent on profits at all costs. The revelations about Facebook’s internal workings and the bevy of coverups make the company seem to rival - if not outpace - the tobacco companies as damaging to the entire world.

At the same time, Facebook allows us to exist in bubbles of confirmation bias. Users need not ever encounter a contradictory opinion, at least one that isn’t shouted down by likeminded users in the comments, unless they make the choice to seek out opposing points of view. Most people would rather have their beliefs affirmed than questioned so massive blind spots to reality have developed.

The question is what to do about it. The problem is made more complicated by the fact that Facebook is heavily used by a large number of small businesses which rely on the platform for marketing and sales. Around the world, 200 million businesses use Facebook’s various tools. At this point, shutting the company down would be damaging to the economy. The six-hour shutdown on Monday cost some businesses thousands of dollars.

I’m no tech expert, but there are a few changes that seem like obvious ways to start fixing the problem. First, trash the algorithms. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that you never see posts from a lot of your friends. That’s because Facebook’s algorithms reward posts that generate engagement in terms of likes, comments, and shares. This also rewards controversial and anger-inducing posts from internet trolls, however.

A quick fix would be to just let posts appear on users’ walls in chronological order. If users want to seek out clickbait that’s one thing, but it’s another entirely to shove it in their faces.

In the meantime, users can help themselves by not engaging with trolls. If we don’t feed the trolls, engagement is limited and their posts won’t be prioritized as highly.

Second, as Haugen pointed out, Facebook’s tools designed to deter the spread of misinformation are woefully inadequate. We’ve probably all had the experience of having an innocuous post removed or flagged because it was flagged by some aspect of the algorithms.

Haugen said that Facebook is “overly reliant on artificial intelligence systems that they themselves say will likely never get more than 10 to 20 percent of the [malicious] content.” Judging from the anti-vax, stolen election, and pandemic fascism posts that I see as I scroll, she’s probably right.

Better AI and a large, large team of human moderators could solve this problem. It would take an army to police Facebook’s 1.8 billion daily active users, but the company can afford it. Facebook’s profit in 2020 was $32 billion.

For years, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company welcomes federal regulation of the social media industry. In response to Haugen’s testimony this week, the company put out another statement that argued that Facebook was being mischaracterized but nevertheless called for regulation.

“We agree on one thing; it’s time to create standard rules for the internet,” Facebook’s statement said. “Instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it’s time for Congress to act.”

The congressional Facebook hearings did show two things. One is that the evidence shows that Facebook needs to be held accountable for actions and decision-making. The second is that we cannot trust Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to be accountable to themselves.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to schedule The Racket’s social media posts foe the day.

From the Racket