Is social media polarising us?

Kate Manning KM

Social media is instrumental in keeping us in touch with friends and family. It connects us, which is crucial at a time where moving cities, countries and continents is normal (and among graduates, even expected). We use it to keep up to date with news, celebrity gossip, fashion, film, art, music…

The list really is endless. It’s a powerful tool in business, and it’s a rarity to come across an organisation which does not include social media in their 2+ year plan (which is a different discussion for another time).

Aside from the occasional pieces which suggest social media is eroding our ability to be social (where do they suppose the constant stream of group selfies plastered over Facebook and Instagram come from, I wonder?), the consensus is that social media gives us an almost gratuitous ability to be informed without conscious effort.

There are some unexpected side effects however, and I’d invite you to participate in a little experiment with me (because, you know, I might be wrong). Open up both Facebook and Twitter. Which pages have you liked? Who are you following? If I’m right, the political pages that you like will coincide with your own political opinions. The news outlets you follow will largely coincide with those political dispositions. Now go to the profiles of your five closest friends – those you talk to and respect the most. Are there any significant differences? Or do you mostly align?

We are able to selectively choose the news that we are presented with. The chances are that if you follow HuffPost (very left wing), you’re not going to be following The Daily Mail (very right wing), and vice versa. Similarly, chances are that those you communicate with most often will share your sentiments.

Finally, think about anyone you have specifically ‘unfollowed’. Did you do that because you largely agree with them, or because they constantly post stuff that irritates you?

We have the ability with social media to listen and engage selectively, which lends itself to the mistaken belief that we are correct all of the time. Everyone agrees with us, and we agree with everyone. I’m not suggesting that we deliberately read opinions that irk us, but it would be sensible to remember that our social media bubbles are not representative. Those that you disagree with likely spend a good few hours a day being reassured that they’re spot on, and it’s the ‘other side’ who are being brainwashed.

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