May 16, 2021

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No Thanks for the Feedback

4 min read


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istockphoto/getty images

Garage bands know about feedback loops. If you place a microphone in front of speakers, the sound picked up by the mic gets amplified and then fed out to the speakers, which the mic picks up and it gets amplified again and again. The circular process turns the sound into a screech or squeal.

After the presidential election, some Trump supporters filled

Twitter

with conspiracy theories of election fraud, including a mysterious box in a red wagon in Detroit, ballots “magically found” in Milwaukee at 3 a.m., and fraudulent Georgia signature checks. Almost all were made-up nonsense, later disproved. But President Trump repeated many of these claims, especially in his Jan. 6 “Save America” rally speech: “They should absolutely find that just over 11,000 votes, that’s all we need. They defrauded us out of a win in Georgia, and we’re not going to forget it.”

The same squid-brained cosplayers who made this stuff up in the first place then believed Mr. Trump when he said, “Make no mistake, this election [was] stolen from you, from me and from the country” and stormed the Capitol. This is the worst case of squealing circular logic that I’ve ever seen.

But not the only one. We had endured a summer of protests, with charges of “systemic racism” and calls to “defund the police.” In a June article, former presidential candidate

Kamala Harris

wrote that “structural racism lives on in our policies and everyday life.” This systemic stuff is good politics.

Or is it? Last month, at U.S.-China summit in Anchorage, Alaska, Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

brought up “deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan.” The top Chinese diplomat,

Yang Jiechi,

responded with a 15-minute tirade in which he asserted that “the challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter.” I wonder where he got that idea. Circular thinking. Who’s fooling whom?

You see it all the time. In February, Fox News’s

Tucker Carlson

got an email from Twitter touting a New York University study on social-media bias: “It found there is no evidence to support claims of anti-conservative censorship on social media and that these claims are ‘a form of disinformation,’ ” Twitter crowed. But the actual study admits that when quantifying liberal vs. conservative censorship, figuring “precise proportions is impossible because Twitter doesn’t release sufficient data.” So Twitter claimed no bias citing an “independent” study to which the company itself provided incomplete data. Circular nonsense.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in a case about the National College Athletic Association’s paying their athletes. Justice

Brett Kavanaugh

summed up the NCAA’s argument: Current rules means schools are conspiring “to pay no salaries to the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars, on the theory that consumers want the schools to pay their workers nothing. And that just seems entirely circular and even somewhat disturbing.” Got that? If they paid athletes, no one would watch.

More?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

of New York and

Gavin Newsom

of California killed their states’ economies and then tried to take credit for saving them. Hey, that almost worked!

Hillary Clinton

cited the Steele dossier as proof of Russian election meddling, a report her campaign in part paid for.

Rep. Adam Schiff

and others parroted its conclusions, except when they were under oath.

Climate-change fears are based on positive feedback loops: greenhouse warming releasing more carbon dioxide, creating more greenhouse warming. But models tend to mishandle the negative feedback of more sun-blocking clouds that has worked since creation. Never mind.

Even more? Citadel Securities paid Robinhood for order flow and then effectively bailed out

GameStop

shorts that were squeezed by massive Robinhood buy orders executed by Citadel.

Apple

charges 30% commissions (15% after a year or for small businesses) in their app store, citing studies showing that’s what others charge. Google tends to follow Apple’s pricing. Hmmm.

China’s banking system and currency are backed by U.S. Treasurys, which are backed by continued economic growth from trade with China. And I never understood this circle: A good part of taxes collected from gambling establishments pay for gambling-addiction treatment. Same with new cannabis taxes to treat addicts.

So how do you fix feedback loops? You could kill the power or unplug the mic, as Twitter did to Mr. Trump. But then the conversation is over. Better to figure out you’re in a loop and move the microphone. Follow the wires and then move out of the circle! Rewire algorithms for civil conversation instead of amplifying the noise. Some don’t mind the noise, but I do. The louder it gets, the more skeptical I become that what I’m hearing is legit. Stop the squeal.

Write to kessler@wsj.com.

Journal Editorial Report: The week’s best and worst from Kim Strassel, Mene Ukueberuwa, Jason Willick and Dan Henninger. Image: Matt Petit / A.M.P.A.S.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the April 26, 2021, print edition.



2021-04-25 14:06:00

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