You won’t learn anything by sitting on Facebook all day

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”.

A recent fad

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 now it’s more pressing since we’re so dependent on social media. For two thirds of young people, it’s their only source of news. We don’t confuse sitting in the pub with friends for watching the evening news, but for some reason we equate sitting on Facebook all evening with engaging in a network of divergent political ideas. They are no different.

When Labour lost the election, everyone online threw tantrums, 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. We didn’t learn anything and we didn’t even realise it. We got so wrapped up in the Facebook hive-mind that we actually began to believe we were the mouth piece of the nation.

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 of the rest of us.

We need to understand social media for what it actually is – social. We can’t understand the world by reading our newsfeed any better than we can get an accurate account  of Corbyn’s popularity by asking only a group of City bankers. And that’s fine, so long as you realise that sharing that Guardian article with your friends is no more politically illuminating than shouting about yourself at yourself in the mirror.

More
University of Cambridge national