By Chris Powers
To many people, social networks are the best part of the internet. They get to hear from their friends on Facebook, follow all their fandoms on Tumblr, and even interact with their favorite celebrities on Twitter. But after awhile, it all just becomes one giant social media echo chamber.
A 2012 Pew Research Poll shows that one-third of adults under 30 get news from their social networks rather than more traditional sources like newspapers, the 24-hour news channels or the once-venerable 6-o’clock news. That number will only increase, driven by an increase in social network users and the omnipresence of smartphones. The problem is that as social news increases so does the bias, but the topics covered will start to narrow.
This is the filter bubble – being surrounded only by people you like and content you agree with. The danger is that this filter bubble creates divisions and further polarizes an already fragmented society.
When people share news, they are more likely to choose sources and topics with the similar biases to their own, and by extension yours. For the most part, people tend to gather friends who are similar to them and share similar viewpoints. Unless you’ve got a broad group of diverse friends and interests, you’re not likely to have many dissenting opinions on your friends list.
As your friends share stories, you might start to add those news sources to your own list because you “like the way they think.” Very few news outlets, especially today, are completely unbiased. It is in human nature to be biased in some fashion.
This problem is only compounded by online companies’ desire to personalize what you see. Your Google search results aren’t necessarily the same as my Google search results. Facebook filters results based on what you’re likely to click on and even what it finds “important.” For these companies, more clicks mean more money in their pocket.
If you’re only relying on trending hashtags to get your news, you’re missing much of the nuance. Oftentimes information needs time to simmer and reduce like a great marinara sauce. Those tweets may be breaking news, but it may only be part of the story. Journalists strive to find out who, what, when, where, why and how, but with Twitter news we only get “Who” and “What.”
Even our politicians aren’t immune. According to an audit by New York Magazine, members of Congress are much more likely to follow other members of their own party and those media outlets that lean toward their side of the aisle with very little overlap between parties. For example, while House Speaker John Boehner’s account is followed by over 85 percent of Congressional Republicans, neither The White House or President Obama’s accounts even make the top 20.