Bursting Bubbles: Why we can stop division through self-reflection

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

I believe it was the notable Winston Churchill who once stated how “democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried”.  In the age of Trump, Brexit, two of, perhaps, the greatest political upsets of at least the twenty-first century highlighted this fundamental democratic frustration.

All our experts told us that voting for either one would cast upon us the end of times, a premature apocalypse perhaps. No matter what we were told people still voted against expert advice. It has lead to many questions, which we still have barely managed to answer. However, what is clear is that both occurred via a democratic process.

I  oppose Trump and Brexit but understand these events underwent democratically. Democracy is a frustrating political system. It involves a process of government that involves political parties, members from different areas on the political spectrum. It is never easy, or smooth. 

Since Trump or Brexit occurred, there has been an unofficial inquiry by each losing side to seek out answers for why both managed to take place. The prevailing answer to these questions was polarisation.  What I hope to highlight today is the importance of approaching, not avoiding, the other side. This may allow us to better resolve this unhealthy era of political polarisation.

For those unfamiliar with the term Social Media/Facebook Bubbles allow me to explain. There is a growing argument, as of late, whereby the assumption for this growing division between the left and the right (to put it simply) is due to the meticulous data algorithms found on Social Media platforms. The supposed mastermind behind this phenomenon has been Facebook which has, as of 2017, 2.07 billion monthly users on the site. The assumptions go as follows:

  1. We read articles that agree with us.

  2. Facebook’s algorithms give us similar articles.

  3. We read those articles so all we do is succumb to confirmational bias.

Now it is very clear that Facebook does have at its disposal countless algorithms designed to suit each user’s preferences. However, this by no means indicates that algorithms alone are to blame for the echo chambers that we have become so overly dependent on.

This point is perhaps emphasised when referring to a study by Science in 2015. The study essentially summed up how:

“Compared with algorithmic ranking, individuals’ choices played a stronger role in limiting exposure to cross-cutting content.”

Mr. Michael Brodeur of the Boston Globe succinctly suggested that it would be very difficult to pierce these bubbles as they are created in our “self-image”.

I believe that it is not only healthy to burst this bubble, but also a necessity. We not only need to escape from these echo chambers to better understand ourselves but to educate each other. What the Boston Globe showed is that the Social Media Bubble theory is simply more than an excuse to explain a very complicated issue of polarisation. Although they exist they can not account for the polarisation we have seen throughout the last two years.

Social Media Bubbles are formed with the help of algorithms but ultimately in the image of ourselves. We have more control than we would like to acknowledge. This, I believe, provides us with a chance to escape these echo chambers by adding in content that we wouldn’t necessarily agree with. By doing so we can better educate and inform ourselves, and eventually each other, on solving issues more effectively.

The Internet, Social Media is no more than a tool that we can use to our advantage if we want to. A Vice article I read, referred to research conducted by Brown University’s Jesse Shapiro and Stanford University’s Matthew Gentzkow which concluded that:   

“the growth in polarization in recent years is largest for the demographic groups least likely to use the internet and social media.”

This suggests that Social Media or the internet may not even increase the levels of division many have tended to believe. This furthers my point; we, not social media, are to blame for the division.

Social Media allows us to learn new things about ourselves and essentially the world. Polarisation is pointless. We must end it through reason and openness.

Reason only comes from a culmination of various viewpoints. Instead of reading articles that inevitably will agree with our opinion, let us cast our eye to the other side. Let us inform our opinions so that we can better solve issues. As philosopher and neuroscientist, Sam Harris once said:

“I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable”.
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