Wait for more information.
This seems like a pretty simple rule when it comes to online speculation. All too often, we jump to conclusions based on nothing but confirmation bias – we look to project a narrative that fits our worldview onto a fact pattern that has not yet come into focus. That leads to pre-emptive bad blood and needless controversy. Once the evidence is out, most people tend to agree on the narrative that best fits the fact pattern anyway.
So why do so many people feel the need to leap chasms to unsupported conclusions? And why isn’t the near-constant failure of that strategy a deterrent to pursuing it?
The temptation isn’t limited to one side. On the Right, the going narrative is that a spate of attempted bombings of Left-wing personalities must be a false flag – either a coordinated attempt to smear Republicans on the part of Democratic activists, or a lone Democratic fan trying to cast aspersions on Republicans more broadly. On the Left, the going narrative is that President Trump essentially deputized the attempted bomber with his overheated rhetoric. That’s at least what the chyron-writer at CNN would have us believe:
So, why not wait for all the evidence to come in and be, you know, correct in your assessment of both the facts and the narrative?
Because incentives are utterly skewed in political punditry. Let’s say you’re a political commentator. A fact pattern comes in that sparks the curiosity of the nation. You have a large crowd of people who agree with you politically. Do you (1) wait for more information, gaining no retweets or additional publicity, or (2) put out a tweet confirming the gut feelings of your own crowd? Normally, you’d think that opting for (1) would be the safer option, given that you might be wrong.
But remember: if you guess first based on confirmation bias, and you turn out to be right, you and your followers will proclaim throughout the land that you have been touched by prophecy, since such prophecy confirms your worldview. If you guess first based on confirmation and get it wrong, your own crowd will find a way to excuse you anyway, since you’re on their side. President Trump was never punished for claiming that Barack Obama was born in Kenya; he’s reaped tremendous political rewards for immediately labeling Islamic terrorist attacks as such before all the evidence is in, then pointing out that he was correct. CNN hasn’t been punished for getting the Michael Brown story completely wrong, for example; they’ve reaped tremendous political rewards for arguing in conclusory fashion that Trump worked with the Russians to win the 2016 election. There’s all reward and no risk in simply jumping to the most convenient conclusion politically.
This is a serious problem. It encourages everyone to ignore the available information, and to demonize the opposition based on pure conjecture. And it means that the next time a fact pattern comes in, your opposition is likely to jump to the photo negative conclusion in order to pre-emptively fight your own conclusory statements. Evidence becomes secondary. Narrative becomes everything.
By Ben Shapiro