The Loop

Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro of the Bureau of Economic Research published a working paper a few years back on political media bias in American print newspapers. It was the kind of study that told you something you already knew but couldn’t prove before the dawn of the digital age. Continue reading


Ten Things I Learned Writing an Objective Political Blog

About 18 months ago I decided to be more intentional about my growing social-media commentary and start a blog about society, politics, foreign policy or anything else that mattered.   I’m a data and technology guy with a history degree and a vet with a handful of war-time deployments. And I have an autistic son. That pretty much hits most things. So I felt that I could put together some interesting perspectives on things that are effecting Americans today.  So about 60 articles and 100,000 or so words later, I’ve got a pretty steady following.  Last month over a thousand people a day visited my site and interacted with my content in 137 countries.  It’s not quite a social hysteria, but it’s enough to make a few observations.  So I thought I would share.

Here’s the top 10:

1. People like lists.

More than 3.  Less than 20. It guarantees them that no matter what they click on, it won’t be the dreaded wall of unbroken text that crushes the soul of anyone reading something on a smartphone while they’re supposed to be doing something else.  Without one, it’s almost impossible to keep your place while scanning your phone in a slow work meeting, a conversation with your spouse about their day or watching six year old soccer.

Or an otherwise unnecessary new paragraph.  Put a list out there, no matter how droll the topic, (see title above) then people will read it.

2. No one has time or interest for more than 750 words.

My wife, love of my life and grand supporter of my creative outlets has room for about 500 of mine.  Some have room for more.  But when you scroll to the bottom of the page on your phone in an effort to gauge the investment you’re about to make, 750 words or so is about where the less than “serious” folks drop off.  Unless of course you make it a list…

3. Most things that matter, can’t be effectively and responsibly discussed in much less than 1,500 words.

Which means we’ve got about 750 word gap between the attention span of the modern human and what is required to garner understanding on an issue.  Chapter 1 of The Book of Genesis  is about 750 words.  Which means the entire creation of the universe fits in the gap between our willingness to know something and the time in which we need to invest to understand it.

4. People share things that they have not read.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon.  A modern blogger, equipped with the basic tools and analytics of their craft can tell how often their posts have been shared or liked on Facebook, or re-Tweeted on Twitter.  And they can also tell how often their page has been visited.  Armed with those two points of data, bloggers, especially ones that deliver political messages and societal commentary, come to the regular conclusion that no one is reading the crap that they are sharing.

It’s called “slacktivism”-a term coined in the modern social media environment to describe attempting to appear to care about or support a cause by doing little more than reading and sharing posts about it.  You know, “raising awareness” with your thumb.   And I’m here to tell you that many don’t read any of it.  The smarter or more edgy the headline or blurb, the more people share it that never even opened it.  You know who you are.

5. Facebook is the greatest social achievement since the invention of television.

And it’s not close. 1.6 billion people used Facebook last month.  As memberships on the planet go, here’s the breakdown:

  1. Humans
  2. Christians
  3. Facebook
  4. Muslims
  5. Chinese

Nothing the planet has ever seen has the optional membership and daily engagement that Facebook has.  And that’s powerful.  But what’s more powerful, is what they’re doing with it.  Over the past 18 months, I’ve been able to get the content of my blog in front of 700,000 targeted people with interests in exactly what I was talking about, at the moment that I was talking about it.  As a result, my blog has been read by over a hundred thousand people from all over the world.

And I’ve been able to accomplish this with a marketing budget less than my cable bill.   Here’s the point, Facebook can distribute information in a way that no other entity on the planet can or ever has.

If you’re wondering why “Chewbacca Mom” was a big deal, consider this.  That video was viewed 50 million times in a day-130 million over the course of a week.  To put that in perspective, the Super Bowl attracted 112 million viewers this year.  The cost of 30 seconds worth of advertising during the Super Bowl is $4.5 Million.  It’s valued at that because you can’t get that many people to be a part of a focused audience without something extraordinary, like the largest sporting event on the planet.

Until now.  Now you can get it with a woman putting her phone on the dashboard of her car in the Kohl’s parking lot.  And hitting no more than three buttons on her phone. And with Facebook Live, it’s all internal content on Facebook’s domain.  No more kicking to YouTube. No more loss of traffic.

The world is a different place and most of it appears to be happening on one site. And it’s probably only a matter of time before regulation, at least in America, starts to invade the space.

6. There’s really only two types of people in the world. 

Those who see the world independent of perspective.  And those who see the world from their own perspective.  The second views the world and its inhabitants as a virtual series of concentric circles, increasing in importance as you approach the center where there is the greatest concentration of people like them. It’s not so much specifically about them. Everyone has their own personal bias and desire for self preservation.  But that group puts a premium on people like them.  Everyone else, not so much.

The other group has no such rings, just a common concern for their fellow man, sometimes no matter how silly or misguided their fellow man is.

It’s not a perfect classification.  It’s a spectrum with extremes.  But you can break down just about every societal issue, its points and counter points by that litmus test.  If I cared about everyone else the way I cared about me and mine, then I have one position.  If I don’t, then I have the other.  Simplistic I know.  But I would challenge you to counter it with an honest argument.  It’s not easy.

7. Still plenty of racism to go around.

There’s a surprising amount of people still comfortable with saying overtly racist things in public venues. If you don’t think it’s out there, peruse the comments section on this site’s Facebook page.  Enjoy! And then take a shower.

8. Cognitive dissonance is a real problem. 

And the information age is actually making it worse.  What’s cognitive dissonance?  It’s a theory developed by Leon Festinger in 1957 that  states that people have a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency. And that powerful motive can give rise to irrational and sometimes “maladaptive” behavior.

The example Festinger used was a study of a cult, in which the members of the cult had given up their homes and possessions because the world was going to be destroyed by a flood.  After the prescribed flood did not occur, those less committed members were able to disavow the cult’s beliefs and move on.  The more committed ones sought to explain that the flood was avoided by their faithfulness.  Translation, some can make their reality fit their mind set more than others.

That used to be really hard to do.  If you believed something, and it were proved wrong through circumstance or logical progression of events in the old days, then you either had to accept it, or be crazy.  Now, with the advent of the information age and the plurality of media realities one can create for one’s self, it’s a lot easier to shape your reality to whatever brand of reality you want.  And the cycle goes on.

9. No one cares about data.

I’ve built algorithms to rank presidential performance, run correlation studies on economic indicators and dissected the entirety of the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey tables to run trend analysis. My favorite comment, used more than once…”what a bunch of crap.”

If you agree with me, you don’t need my data. If you don’t, you don’t believe it. In the end, people consume things that they agree with or are about them.

10. Being a veteran lets me say things others can’t.

And I don’t know that it’s  a good thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not.  Because there’s a lot of less than impressive veterans out there saying less than impressive things. And people appear to put more stock into them than they ought to. There’s a difference between paying respect for service and pretending that someone has a level of credibility for having served that they actually don’t. For anyone who served at any time in history, they can probably look back at the folks they served with and think of quite a few they wouldn’t take political, societal or economic advice from. Or advice on other less dynamic things like how to make a cup of coffee, or where to buy a carton of milk. Or how to get through the day without hurting yourself…or others.  You get the point.

I couldn’t have said that by the way, if I weren’t a vet.


So there it is.  The 10 things I’ve learned. The world is full of bias, self preservation and short attention spans.  It probably always has been, because it’s full of people.  And we’re nothing if not predictable.  A person can change.  People, that’s another matter all together.  But now that I’ve shared these things, maybe you can move forward with a bit more measured conviction about the things you run into on your phone, or your computer, or you’re in-laws house.  And if you’re starting a blog of your own, and you have your sites set on mediocre part-time success remember.  People like lists.