Move outside your ideological bubble on social media

By Krystyna Serhijchuk, Columnist

We’ve all seen the political memes and long-winded Facebook statuses this election cycle.

There’s a good chance you’ve contributed to this dynamic as well, whether you’ve aggressively live-tweeted the debates or quietly up-voted an acquaintance’s political comment.

Although political participation through social media feels productive and even therapeutic, this method is missing something vital. Many of us are not engaging with those of a different political orientation. And many of us are not even voting.

Social media helps spread awareness, but isn’t necessarily inciting real change.

Many studies show that our desire to be with like-minded people who share similar views is hard-wired. A 2009 analysis led by researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Florida, which included data from 91 studies and involved about 8,000 participants, supports this idea. 

Participants were asked about their views on given topics and were then given the option to read and view information supporting either their own or an opposing point of view. The researchers found that people selected information matching their own views 67 percent of the time. In addition, people were even more resistant to new points of view when they were associated with political, religious, or ethical values.

Social media and the Internet have made it easy for us to act on this natural inclination of avoiding information that contradicts what we already think or believe. Online, we tend to engage with opinions and people we agree with. We mostly stay within our own sociopolitical bubbles, following and friending those who hold similar beliefs to us, leading to us forming stronger biases.

We post oversimplified partisan memes and statuses, which further ingrain our like-minded friends’ political ideas into their minds. Our perception of reality in these digital spaces is warped, as social media algorithms influence what type of content and opinions we’re consuming.

I found this to be evident in the months leading up to this year’s primary election. A flood of Bernie Sanders support on every social media platform surrounded me. It felt as if everyone was rooting and definitely voting for Bernie. He was sure to get the Democratic nomination. How could he not? No one could seem to hide their devotion.

In reality, my online feeds were simply reflecting my own political ideology. Many of my peers who showed Bernie love online didn’t even bother showing up to the voting booth in March.

One might assume that social media makes it easy to engage with a vast array of opinions. Research has shown, however, that social media actually makes people less likely to voice their opinions. This is especially true when one’s views differ from those of others. 

Social media has the effect of discouraging diversity of opinion. In addition, research has found that those who regularly use social media are less likely to express their divergent opinions offline as well.

Social media has the ability to unite us over issues. But in reality, it’s far more likely to simply positively reinforce your own views and cause you to adhere to your beliefs.

Because of this, your political engagement online might not be as productive as it feels. You’re unlikely to be convincing independent or undecided voters to vote for a specific candidate. You’re unlikely to even find an undecided or independent voter within the bubble of your social media, let alone somebody strongly against your point of view.

If you’re looking to make a difference, step outside of your bubble. The physical act of canvassing, registering voters, writing articles on a local scale or voting itself, are far more effective in terms of communicating public opinion in favor of your issue or candidate. Another Facebook status posted to a niche group of individuals doesn’t compare.

As Obama would say: “Don’t boo. Vote.”

Krystyna is a junior in LAS.

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