Social media is making people dumber, and Twitter founder Evan Williams is pointing to President Donald Trump as proof.
Williams, who co-founded Twitter, the president’s favorite communication platform, said Trump’s 2016 victory is evidence social media is helping “dumb down the entire world.”
Despite helping to create the Twitterverse, a world where users have a mere 140 characters to get their points across, Williams is now condemning the platform and the media that surrounds it.
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"The much bigger issue is not Donald Trump using Twitter that got him elected, even if he says so; it is the quality of the information we consume that is reinforcing dangerous beliefs and isolating people and limiting people’s open-mindedness and respect for truth," Williams said during an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
Williams called Trump a “symptom” of a “media ecosystem” driven by the immediate gratification of clicks. He said the current media model, where media chases sensational news, has allowed for politicians like Trump, who lack substance and depth, to flourish because they choose to communicate in 140 characters or less.
“Quoting Trump’s tweets, or quoting the latest stupidest thing that any political candidate or anyone else says, is an effective way to exploit people’s basest instincts. And that is dumbing the entire world down," he said.
Williams explained how he's become disillusioned by the Internet.
“One of my big learnings, over the last couple of decades, is that access to information alone doesn’t make us smarter. The fake news thing is one small part of it; another even bigger part of it is the quality and depth of the information. Is it actually building our understanding or deepening our understanding of the world or is it just noise?” he asked.
But it’s not just politicians who are suffering, a recent Pew Research Center survey said some 67 percent of Americans not rely on social media to get at least some of their news. While most adults choose Facebook for news, where character counts are more lenient, Twitter is rapidly gaining ground.
During the 2016 presidential election, Russian hackers exploited Facebook and other social media to spread fake news that may have ultimately contributed to Trump’s success in the election.
Williams said it’s not just Twitter to blame for Trump’s rise; he condemned the pervasive use of social media, which he says distorts fact and opinion and allows for exploitation of emotion.