If there’s one thing that 2016 taught me, it’s that you can’t rely on your friends.
Let me explain.
Like most twenty-somethings, social media has been an inherent part of my life since my high school days. Since then, what I use it for has changed in line with both wider cultural and social shifts, and my own interests. From planning cinema trips to sharing photos and tagging each other in memes, our use of social media has evolved as we’ve (supposedly) grown up.
And trusting Facebook and Twitter to be reliable news sources is something that really took off with the concept of ‘trending’ posts. The topics that people were discussing the most suddenly became news stories in themselves, but it seems that from here, some journalistic values began to get lost.
Whilst news outlets such as the BBC have an obligation to deliver unbiased, objective reporting, the sources of many ‘trending’ stories on social media accept no such responsibility. And, just as I led into this post with a sensational statement that told only part of the story, that’s precisely how news is being delivered to us on these social sites.
Which is where the filter bubble starts to inflate. Because, the stories that appear on your Facebook feed aren’t solely based on universal or even just national interest levels – rather, what appears is also influenced by what your ‘friends’ have themselves engaged with.
So, for example, if the majority of your friends think that the latest chapter in a Kardashian’s love story is unmissable news, you’ll also be subjected to it because Facebook’s algorithms will presume you care. Yet while unwilling exposure to the lives of certain ‘celebrities’ does pain me, slightly more monumental events that took place in 2016 were what led to my distrust of some social media news.
In the run-up to the Brexit vote and Trump’s election last year, both the trending stories and posts from friends that appeared on my news feeds led me to believe that neither result could possibly happen – the vast majority of my Facebook friends were vehemently in favour of staying in the EU, and I don’t remember a single person expressing an affinity towards Donald.
But a year on, we know that both outcomes did occur, so why was I so convinced that they wouldn’t? The filter bubble, that’s why.
Depending on who you connect with, social media can easily become an echo chamber for your own opinions. Of course, we’re more drawn to like-minded people and would rather engage in conversation with those who share our views and values. However, if the only opinions we see are reflections of our own, it’s dangerously easy to forget that there’s a world outside the illusion, where people’s views differ from ours.
And this is largely why the two vote results took me by surprise – I hadn’t paid enough attention to what was outside my bubble.
Which brings me onto the importance of reading mixed content. As much as it might bemuse or even anger you to consider views at odds with your own, or spend your time reading articles that directly contradict your values, in the digital world of targeted advertising and trending stories, doing so is crucial to gaining real perspective.
If there’s one thing that 2016 taught me, it’s that you can’t rely on your friends if you want the whole story.