The perils of social media echo chambers

I’ve recently become a bit of an eco-warrior h8e10ex. According to the office I never stop bleating on about veganism or the environment. Perhaps it’s true, but that just means I’m a nice person.

However, this article isn’t about me. It’s about what’s now happening to my social feeds.

I’m a big fan of using Facebook and Twitter to read and share news. And as I’ve started sharing articles on Trump’s attack on the environment since he came in to power, and followed (and even donated to) Greenpeace, my social feed has become abundant with stories and ads about green energy, wildlife and more.

This is great – the more interesting stories I can read about how the earth is doomed, the more I can preach to the office. One of the biggest eye-openers, along with the fact that if we don’t fix our climate in the next five years we’re doomed, is that I’m increasingly creating a social echo chamber for myself – one that contains news and views catered to my own.
This is a problem, and can help us understand why there’s such a big, and growing, polarisation of views between the left and right of society.

Think about it. If I’m receiving a deluge of news and views curated to my shares and likes, this is the same for those who vehemently deny climate change, or worse, racists/xenophobes and so on. And as you click, share and like you end up with a fantastic echo chamber of all these lovely or not so lovely people chiming in, and giving a view similar to yours.

What then happens is a rising anger. If I’m reading all these articles about climate change, and there’s a lot, why is no one helping? The same applies to those reading about the erosion of British values, or the ‘next immigrant crisis’ threatening society. We read a deluge of articles, almost on a daily basis, all with one side of the story – all catered to our own browsing data that keeps us in our comfort zone.

With 61% of millennials using Facebook as their primary source for news about politics and government, we need to have more awareness of what’s happening beyond our own personalised news bulletins. Publishers, and that includes Google, Twitter and Facebook despite what they might say, feed us the content we want to read because it gets them clicks. More clicks gets them more ad sales, which increase in value the more data advertisers have on us. Data which we’re happy to give to advertisers in exchange for a better user experience. In truth, we probably like the comfort bubbles we’ve built for ourselves, but we need to be aware of the negatives.

2016 was a big year for all the wrong reasons. Not only did we have Brexit and give huge amounts of airspace to Farage and co. but the USA also elected a heavily divisive figure in Trump. As an article by Wired at the end of last year argued; our own social filter bubble is destroying democracy. The author points out that maybe if Americans had people on their feeds that provided arguments against their self-held beliefs, and vice versa, people would have re-thought their vote. Perhaps the same could be applied to Brexit.

Because to understand what news is fake or biased, we have to find and read other sources. Or Facebook, Twitter and Google – which are increasingly acting like publishers in all but name – need to get a lot better at fostering connections and giving balanced debate – otherwise the world will keep belonging to hate.