Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Social Media is Narrowing (Not Expanding) Our Understanding

by Ellie Williams-Brown

Most Americans - and non-Americans - found Trump's victory a surprise from hell. They viewed it as shocking - a result no-one had expected. In a similar way to the Brexit vote, so many people were outraged not only by the outcome but how they felt so unprepared for it, believing only a vocal minority supported Trump. This view can be seen as a certain form of ignorance which happens once you surround yourself with people who only have the same view. Whilst previously this only seemed to occur due to social class, now social media seems to have furthered this divide. 

Social media' rise and fall is in how we choose who to interact with. Choosing who we an see and talk to is - obviously - not entirely negative; it can help prevent bullying and stop unwanted social interactions. However, when you begin to use social media for politics and to understand the views of others, problems begin to arise. I believe this is because - unless you are actively searching for a wide range of political views - you will end up surrounding yourself with views not too dissimilar to your own. Whilst good for nurturing views and for resting in the knowledge that your views are entirely right, when big political elections or decisions arise it can leave people unprepared for what the outcome will be. 

The people we choose to surround ourselves with are also connected to our social classes, which influences the political views you will end up being surrounded by. For example, if someone worked in the EU and had made most of their connections through that job, before the EU referendum Brexit happening would have seemed a far-off nightmare which could never occur. But, someone of a different social class would have had a completely different perception, viewing Britain staying in the EU as a far-off fantasy.

Also, when selecting who to follow on Twitter, for example, many people will choose only to listen to political viewpoints which directly align with theirs. This may not be too bad for someone who is only beginning to argue for their political views, as it can help them grow and find facts to justify their viewpoints. But when someone has already established their views and no longer feels the need to explain their logic or reasoning, and they only surround themselves with people holding similar political views, it seems to be more in ignorance than a need for support. This has become so common that there is even a term for it: epistemic closure.* People could also be doing this as subconsciously they feel insecure in their political views and need them to be justified, instead of questioning the need for justification. This not only leads - yet again - to ignorance but also to more extreme political views as, in a need to justify their insecurities, they end up leaning even further to the extremes of the political spectrum. 

To conclude, I believe social media is narrowing our political views as we are not choosing to surround ourselves with people who would challenge our views - thus losing a chance for us to justify and further them. By using only social media - especially Facebook - as a news source, we end up feeding ourselves often inaccurate and biased information. This is taken even further to the extreme when people end up only seeing their friends posting their own personal views, giving a misleading idea of the numbers of supporters for a particular candidate or cause. 

*from "epistemology": study of knowledge (or: how we know things)

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