In a world in which everybody and their mother has a digital platform to publicly voice their thoughts, the number of opinions we come across on a daily basis has never been higher. Yet despite this opinion overload, research demonstrates we are being exposed to a decreasing rate of opinions that cut across ideological divides. An excerpt from the journal Science explains what’s going on:
People are increasingly turning away from mass media to social media as a way of learning news and civic information. Bakshy et al. examined the news that millions of Facebook users’ peers shared, what information these users were presented with, and what they ultimately consumed (see the Perspective by Lazer). Friends shared substantially less cross-cutting news from sources aligned with an opposing ideology. People encountered roughly 15% less cross-cutting content in news feeds due to algorithmic ranking and clicked through to 70% less of this cross-cutting content. Within the domain of political news encountered in social media, selective exposure appears to drive attention.
We have the power to make the views of someone we disagree with disappear at the click of a button. The result is the creation of a dangerous “social media echo chamber”: a digital space in which the only opinions we hear are our own, and those of our like-minded friends. The effect of constraining ourselves to our own worlds is that we run the risk of entirely discounting and dehumanizing those who disagree with us.
Thankfully, there are strategies you can follow to avoid the dangers of the social media echo chamber.
Fight the Confirmation Bias
The fact is, we are hardwired to seek out information that confirms our previously-held ideas and opinions. This psychological phenomenon is called “confirmation bias,” and cuts across all walks of life — from our tendency to instinctively discount political views that contradict our own, to cases in which scientists have ignored information that goes against their hypotheses.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t pride yourself on your convictions. We all have our personal beliefs, and they are essential to providing us direction and meaning in the world.
But just to make sure you’re following the right direction, it is necessary to seek out data and empirical evidence that can verify your beliefs. Take the time to dig deep on those divisive issues bouncing off the walls of your social media feeds.
Hey, you never know: it may turn out a long-held belief is not supported by the facts, and you’ll be forced to reassess a situation. (There’s nothing wrong with change!) Or you may realize we’re not so different after all.
Either way, being conscious of the confirmation bias, and seeking data to substantiate your beliefs, will engender more informed, rational opinions.
Broaden Your Perspectives
Surprise, surprise — one straightforward way to escape the social media echo chamber is to get off the Internet every now and then.
Engaging with your community and interacting with people of diverse backgrounds will make you more open-minded, and may disprove long-held prejudices or biases. Actually talking to someone in person can be a surprisingly strong way to disrupt preconceived ideas.
Another option to broaden your perspectives is to take a workshop or class that requires you to engage in deep-thinking about complex issues. Philosophy is a fantastic discipline through which to hone your ability to make complex, multi-faceted judgments and identify your core principles at a deeply personal level. This will develop your own ability to discern the good and truthful versus the bad and fictional.
It’s easy to give into the pressures of snap decision-making. Our digital age is dominated by rapid responses and fast resolutions. Yet in a world of “fake news” and divisive rhetoric, the importance of taking a step back to make an informed, rational decision has never been of greater importance.
How can I make informed, rational decisions, you ask? Put yourself in the position of the “juror” whenever approaching a new issue. Rather than jumping to conclusions when the next political scandal strikes, make the concerted effort to expose yourself to as great a diversity of information as possible. Engage in a friendly debate with someone you know holds different opinions than you.
Chances are you’re not going to like listening to people that drive you nuts, but doing so will allow you to cultivate patience, reason, and conviction.