We all live in a bubble. Here’s why you step out of it, according to experts
Picture this, you’re online scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and this is what you see: ‘Keep them out! Finally nice to see there’s accountability in this country #travelban.’ Or you see this: ‘How can this even be legal? Families are being torn apart #travelban.’
Depending on your ideologies and opinions, you might see one or the other. But usually not both. That’s according to experts who say you’re living in an online bubble.
When the news of Donald Trump’s executive order to ban the entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries broke, the online talk became divisive and filtered, said Mary Charleson, a marketing and media strategist who teaches at Capilano University in Vancouver.
Social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram use algorithms to get you to spend time on your feeds. They immerse you with content that they believe you’ll like, Charleson explains.
“You live in a sea of sameness. You’re getting constantly reinforced with views that are like your own and you’re not being challenged by opinions different than your own, and that’s a real danger,” Charleson told Global News.
If you’re not being challenged in your thoughts, then you are not aware of what others who are different than you are thinking, she added. “And you are not being open to perhaps having your own views changed or altered.”
In a term coined by Internet entrepreneur, Eli Pariser, we live in “filter bubbles,” an ideologically isolated and self-confirming online world. And some psychologists have argued it can extend beyond to social gatherings, the books you read, the neighbourhood you live in and the people you surround yourself with.
Your comfort zone, as Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson suggested back in 1908 in a famous psychological experiment with mice, is a behavioural state that minimizes your stress and risk with a situation. By surrounding yourself with what you know — creating patterns and routines —you’re in the ultimate safe haven.
When it comes to the online world of cat memes, avocado toast and #motivationmonday, experts say we get sucked in and there’s a “dangerous unintended consequence.”
“Your filter bubble is kind of like your own personal and unique universe of information that you live in online. And what is in your filter bubble depends on who you are and what you do, but the thing is you don’t decide what gets in and more importantly, you don’t actually see what gets edited out,” said Pariser, a left-wing political and internet activist who wrote The Filter Bubble.
Pariser argues that we don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Algorithmic filters on Google’s search engine or social media newsfeeds are mainly looking at what you click or like. So the latest on Justin Bieber might trump information on Syria.
“Instead of a balanced information diet, you could end up surrounded by information junk food,” Pariser said, making the analogy that we all need our information vegetables just as much as our information desserts.
But a sweet lemon meringue pie in the figurative sense, is not always more tempting than broccoli, one study suggests. Researchers at Oxford, Stanford and Microsoft Research analyzed how 50,000 Americans interacted online. What they found was that although social media was distancing people with different partisan positions, it was also increasing people’s exposure to material “from his or her less-preferred side of the political spectrum.”
Regardless of opposing views, Charleson said we should be using social media as tool and not a crutch. “There is a real beauty in browsing because you stumble upon things that perhaps you weren’t looking for…or you stumble upon an opinion that challenges your own.”
She suggests poking your heads out of your social media bubble, or even news outlets you regularly read. Proving yourself right is not as valuable as examining other views and theories as alternatives, she said, which in the end is important for civil discourse and democracy.
“Democracy is fragile. In the west we tend to assume that democracy will be here forever, and that freedom of speech, and the right to protest, and the right to having opposing views and acceptance of others who are unlike us is a given,” Charleson said.
But it’s disarmingly easy for all of that to possibly go away, she added, unless we pop the bubble.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.