The world has seen some benefits as a result of social media, be it providing a platform of free speech during the Arab spring, or allowing people to tell family and friends they are safe after a disaster. However, it's having a tremendous impact on the world's political landscape (in the countries that allow it anyway), as it is partly to blame for the huge rise in populist movements around the world, whether it's happening on the far right or left. The effect causing this is confirmation bias or as some people put it - an echo chamber. Fragmentation of the media has both pros and cons, it has allowed advertisers to precisely target their consumers, but it has also given rise to this phenomenon. A huge problem is that 62% of the US get their news from Facebook. There is a right wing political commentator called Tomi Lahern based in Texas, not many people have heard of her, probably more than half of America haven't, but one of her videos has racked up more than 65m views!!! That's more than all the US network channels combined. She is of course a Trump supporter, and spouts racist bull***, but 65m people have seen it, and shared it to like minded followers, creating a huge positive feedback loop, reinforcing right wing views across the US.
Social media was meant to break down social barriers, and bring us closer together. Instead, it's doing the exact opposite. These platforms simply make it easier to find like-minded people in whatever corner of the world they were hiding before. News and information is no longer shared alongside a representative range of opinions, but filtered to reinforce your own beliefs. People are not being exposed to other ideas and viewpoints, social media is stifling political debate, and reinforcing negative perceptions. Both sides are shouting at each other, but no one is listening because they have blocked each other out of their feeds. Twitter & Facebook are also to blame as the trending section is often a person's view into the wider world. By default they personalise the trends most likely to interest the user. The algorithms which all major social platforms use to control which content you see optimise automatically around the content you best respond to, almost certainly again further filtering out opposing opinion.
This doesn’t just mute opposing opinions, it begins to have the effect of amplifying your own side of the argument too. These echo chambers of opinion can slowly reinforce specific angles of an argument and even encourage the public sharing of more controversial suggestions which you might be hesitant to do with a greater chance that they would be challenged.
North Korea has spent decades creating this man made environment, restricting what their citizens can view, and pumping out propaganda. We have done this to ourselves organically within a few years. We have turned ourselves into propaganda machines, the more we like, share and follow the more we go down an increasingly narrow tunnel, cutting ourselves off from the reality of the world. We trust our peers now more than experts or large news corporations, and we seek out information that reinforces our views. People inherently don't like to be told they are wrong, and now they can find millions of people who agree with them. They get sucked into this world, causing greater division on both sides. Social media is creating two parallel worlds, never interacting, and becoming increasingly extreme and hostile to one another on the left and the right. It has become a game of he-said-she-said, but a dangerous game, which could have a huge impact on our future.
There’s nothing new about swings in political ideology but there is something different about the way these debates are playing out across the world. While social media channels were hailed as great unifiers that would connect and bring people together, now they seem to be making us more divisive than ever before. Can the internet giants really be to blame for our eccentric political scene? Thousands of years of democracy have been marked by striking changes in the dominant political opinion – driven by economics, immigration, charismatic leaders, emergency crises, other hot issues and at times even good marketing. The majorities commanded by many modern governments don’t equate to a true majority of the popular vote but, for better or worse, the system seems to have held together far longer than its Greek creators would ever have expected.