Throwing ourselves back into the election cycle for just a moment, it was far from uncommon to run into a political post when scrolling through Facebook. Though this time around I started to see something a little different.
More than a few of my friends on Facebook said something along the lines of, “if you support [insert candidate’s name here] then you can just unfriend me.” Some explained their thought process in detail, others just called for a candidate’s supporters to remove them as a friend.
My initial reaction? I laughed.
But as I saw more and more of these requests, I began to think about the sentiment behind them. It seemed that no individual was willing to compromise. (Thomas Friedman examined the potential ramifications of this unwillingness in a New York Times article from August.) Voters are less inclined to hear an opinion different than their own, and because we increasingly interact with our like-minded ‘friends’ on social media, we don’t have to.
Facebook has been in hot water for allowing this narrow network of exposure to news and ideas. An article called Facebook’s news presentation a “disaster for the public’s understanding of current affairs.”
All of these insular workings can be described in a media theory referred to as the “filter bubble.” The filter bubble is said to occur when “websites make use of algorithms to selectively assume the information a user would want to see, and then give information to the user according to this assumption.” These assumptions are based on “information related to the user, such as former click behavior, browsing history, search history and location.” (Definition from Techopedia.)
So, at the end of the day, not only are our social media algorithms showing us what they think we want to see but we, too, are removing any individuals or networks that don’t align with our views.
For media and news outlets, this presents a dilemma; do they tailor news to appeal to certain groups, or write articles that will present the objective facts? Encouraging readers to think critically about the source of their news articles is going to be a difficult but key piece in ensuring that we all form objective and well thought-out opinions. While it is unpleasant to be exposed to opinions we don’t agree with, information literacy is wildly important in answering pressing questions… such as what our collective future will look like.