Over the past four years, we’ve seen an uncontrollable outpour of anger on social media about everything from the president’s infuriatingly racist tweets to emotionally manipulative political propaganda such as the QAnon conspiracy. These acts have led some people to conclude that social media is a real problem destroying our society.
Social media has a role in the increasing polarization of the U.S. The personalization of content has created “echo chambers” of views that limit us to our side of an argument. They bear the blame for encouraging the division of realities to make us feel comfortable. We seek the feeling of being heard and the desire to be among the majority opinion so much that we trap ourselves inside our echo chambers.
The “filter bubble theory” by Eli Pariser shows how social media locks us into our echo chambers by creating a false safe space. Our personalized data creates filter bubbles that restrict the information we see, and according to research in his book Filter Bubbles, our search history determines the results brought up by search engines.
“Your computer monitor is a kind of one-way mirror, reflecting your interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click,” Pariser said.
With every click or search on sites like Facebook or Google, our information is used to feed us targeted ads. These keep the constant pattern of only seeing posts and comments from people that we agree with, which leaves us out of circles with people or sites that we disagree with. This encourages a dangerously false perception of the world. The issue is worsened by our constant dependence on social media for information.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who has a different opinion than yours, and they give evidence or an article that they refer to as “popular,” but you’ve never heard the news? That is the outcome of the filter bubble, giving us the feeling of living in different worlds. The filter bubble creates different realities that are common during intense and confusing times, like the election. Half of the country thinks the election was fair while the other half feels like the results were unfair.
The division is caused by the filter bubble and our desire to escape any meaningful interaction with people whose opinions differ from ours. This behavior encourages symmetric polarization that we can now see in our political spheres and creates the divisions seen in our society today.
An example of this would be conservatives claiming that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are censuring them at an unequal rate. Broadly, rather than addressing the issues together and condemning hate speech, some people tend to criticize them and encourage the harsh censorship of conservative or “controversial” content. They bully the writers while thinking they are the majority.
This harsh and needed criticism has led to the social media divide aided by the filter bubble and the creation of alt-right social media such as Parler, which to put it mildly, is a disastrous place for hate where a myriad of dangerously false conspiracies further encourage and feed divisiveness in our country.
To avoid the dangerous backlash of the divide caused by the filter bubble, we should honestly listen to each other and encourage honest conversations with different opinions to protect the sanctity and unity of our country.