Our newsfeeds are one-sided echo-chambers
One look at your Facebook newsfeed and you’ll probably find it littered with impassioned calls for anti-austerity action, anti-Tory protests and whatever else happens to be fashionable with the student left at the moment. Reading all this, you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole country was concerned about these topics too, but relying on social media for your political exposure is a dangerous game.
Back in the run-up to the general election, Facebook was telling me everyone supported Labour. Surely a win for Red Ed was inevitable then right? What we have to realise though is just because our friends are all saying the same thing doesn’t mean everybody else is.
Friendships are born out of common belief and understanding, so it’s reasonable to assume you’ll share some vague political ideals. Once you start relying on them for all your exposure to politics and news though, you’ll find yourself in an echo-chamber which never challenges your own beliefs: the ultimate “safe space”.
We cultivate our news feeds, as we do our personal friendships, to be filled with people like us: all the same age, roughly the same wealth demographic, with the same educational background. We’ve become a generation of people who aren’t as exposed and diversely political as we think. Instead, we’re people who like hanging out and exchanging ideas with versions of ourselves, throwing around one-sided ideas like some kind of anti-austerity, Miliband-loving bouncy ball. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of non-productive, Guardian-sharing, same-ness.
Of course, people have always been like this but it’s a more pressing issue now we’re so dependent on social media. For two thirds of young people, it’s their only source of news, yet it’s nowhere near as broad and diverse as we think. We don’t confuse sitting in the pub with friends for watching the evening news and engaging with a network of divergent ideas and arguments but this isn’t any different from sitting on Facebook all evening.
When Labour lost the election, everyone online threw a tantrum, stamped their feet and doubled down on all their bad behaviours. Backs were patted even more fiercely and Guardian articles were shared even more often. Nobody learned anything and we didn’t even realise it. Carrying on like this is dangerous because we get so wrapped up in the Facebook hive-mind we actually begin to believe we are part of the majority.
The gay marriage referendum in Ireland passed with a pretty big majority, but Facebook would have had you believe it should have been unanimous. That’s because the 38 per cent who voted no aren’t on our newsfeeds. Or, if they are, they’re keeping quiet – crowded out by the noise the rest of us are making.
We need to stop using social media for anything other than being social. We can’t understand the world by reading our newsfeed any better than we could get an accurate explanation for Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity by asking a group of City bankers. So wake up and realise: sharing that Guardian article with your friends is no more politically illuminating than shouting about yourself at yourself in the bathroom mirror.