Do You Really Live in a Social Media Filter Bubble?

So you think you live in a social media filter bubble?

According to Wikipedia, a filter bubble is a state of intellectual isolation resulting from a website algorithm guessing what information you’d like to see based on facts about you, your location, your past click-behaviour and search history. Eventually you become separated from information that disagrees with your viewpoints, effectively isolating you in your own cultural or ideological bubble… or so the theory goes. 

It’s easy to imagine how it happens off social media, when you build up a search history and Google, for example, keeps on surfacing the things it knows you like, at the expense of those you don’t. But what about our social media accounts? 

In my experience my Facebook account – which I reserve for proper friends and family – isn’t a bubble at all. I thought it was, but the minute I started sharing political content and making my views clear, I had a totally unexpected and shocking response. 

You might imagine your friends and family have much the same religious and political views as you. But do they really? The thing is, we tend to obey a particularly powerful unwritten cultural rule on social media, the same rule we use for dinner parties – we don’t mention politics or religion. And we do it for a good reason, to protect strong family ties and keep valuable friendships. 

It isn’t nice when good, loyal, loved people share far right wing content, or ugly stuff that encourages racism, sexism, cruelty, ignorance or  intolerance. You feel badly let down. It feels like you’ve been poisoned. 

On the other hand it’s good to know that we might not, in fact, be stuck in social media filter bubbles, protected from the things we don’t like to see or hear. We might just be happily stuck in a world where politeness dictates some opinions are best kept to ourselves. We open the Pandora’s Box of political honesty at our peril! 

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