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How to Pop Your Social Media Filter Bubble

Updated on February 26, 2017
Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.
Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. | Source

Since the beginning of the USA's election campaigning, I have become increasingly aware of a concept known as the filter bubble. Essentially, engaging with content on networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter promotes similar content to the top of one's newsfeed. Our collective reliance on these sites for news and current events has also been increasing; this has resulted in an excessively polarised representation of modern society, which is epitomised by Donald Trump.

Perspectives

People are able to engage with news more than ever before. All news is inherently bias. Once a group of people engages with a biased piece of content, algorithms promote content with a similar bias. If members of the group continue to accept and agree with the bias, this process continues. Some members begin to actively promote their bias. This creates a snowball effect, resulting in two groups at opposite ends of a contrived political spectrum.

Of course, people have always had opposing views, but never before has it been so easy to be duped into leaning towards a group via a mechanism other than the environment in which one is raised; Facebook is the modern equivalent of the community in which one lived as a child.

Whenever you click on an article from a slightly conservative or progressive page, you are effectively turning your virtual head; your field of view rotates towards a plethora of similar opinions.

Problems

People feel as though there is no middle ground – as though there are two opposing "teams", and everybody must choose one. This view is promoted in tandem with the power of precisely two political parties. These parties are kept alive by such a view, and holding such a view attempts to justify a two-party system.

Tension arises from one side gaining a clear advantage. This has happened every week since Trump began to gain traction, and is becoming more serious with his every action, as his opposition intensifies its resistance. Demonstrations, protests, riots, and outright attacks ensue.

Solutions

Imagine two extreme scenarios: in the first, everyone who uses Facebook follows both Breitbart and Occupy Democrats, and no one else; they are initially neutral on all topics regularly brought up by these pages, both of which are known to have shared misinformation, also known as "fake news".

Besides creating their own moderate news source, the only option for people would be to decide between the two ideologies. Perhaps people would roam beyond social networking and its click-driven media, and into searches for research papers about abortions, and discussions about gun ownership where nobody resorts to name-calling and petty insults. Currently, seeking valid information and having mature discussions appear to largely be stuck with the status of novel concepts.

Eventually, everyone will have decided between the two sites. Everyone will have an overly polarised view. This is where we are heading. If the majority decides to accept something which appears immoral to someone else, then so be it. I am not here to discuss what is "right", but with the help of logic and discussion, I imagine that the majority would properly consider both sides of every argument before coming to a sensible conclusion.

In the second scenario, everyone who uses Facebook follows only the least biased sites, and is never exposed to anything close to an extreme view. People would be completely free to form their own opinions, instead of being coerced. One possible problem with this scenario is that slightly biased news often aligns with the views of the current government; without persuasive media, the ability of governments to push for change would be diminished.

We need to remain somewhere between these two extremes, and create a barrier before complete polarisation; opposing ideas are necessary for debate, yet both sides must be moderate enough to consider changing. This is why you should follow Drudge Report, a conservative-leaning news site, as well as far-left sites like The Other 98%, whilst keeping your knowledge of their skewed content at the front of your mind.

In the latter scenario, where everyone who uses Facebook follows a wide spectrum of news sources, both sides might begin to respect the views of the other, and appreciate the scale of their opposition. From this, perhaps some convergence towards the centre would arise, and a third party, which better represents the majority, would be able to form.

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