Opinion: It's time to step outside our social media echo chambers

The internet is only as balanced as you allow it to be

Katie Hopkins, Defamation, Libel, Jack Monroe, Twitter

Katie Hopkins entering the Celebrity Big Brother house at the start of the 2015 series of the Channel 5 show [Ian West/PA Wire]

As the world comes to terms with the news that Donald Trump has been elected 45th President of the United States, questions have been raised as to how the polls and the media got it so wrong. Many have taken to Facebook and Twitter to express their shock, disbelief and disappointment at the result, but is that part of the problem? Are we living in our own little liberal social media echo chamber?

Recent research suggests that Facebook has become the top source of political news among millennials, with Baby Boomers the most likely to see political content on Facebook that supports their own view. Is it no wonder that social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are replacing the traditional watercooler, providing a platform to pontificate on the latest ‘Trumpism’ or what was really going on with those Clinton emails?

#NeverTrump fans, whose feeds were filled with the likes of the latest John Oliver Trump tirade, were left dazed and confused following the final result. How could someone who millions of people seemingly hated manage to win?

Surely we should have seen some signals in the media and on social media? No, not necessarily.

Enter the echo chamber.

News feeds like Facebook’s shape how we see the world. Their cleverly designed algorithms soak up the stories that we comment on and share with our friends to determine what news is important enough for us to see. However, it is not Mark Zuckerberg’s fault that we consume news that fits within our ideologies. We are the ones that control who our Facebook friends are and the news sites we follow.

For example, if you were a Hillary supporter, would you continue to follow a publisher who purported Trump and Republican values in the interest of balance? Probably not. As Zuckerberg says, no two people see the same Facebook so every decision you make has the potential to broaden or narrow your view of the world around you. 

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Closer to home, The Late Late Show, a bastion of Irish television, booked Trump supporter and controversial commentator Katie Hopkins to appear as a guest in the wake of his victory. Within hours of the announcement, #boycottLateLate was trending with many people asking why the State broadcaster invited someone who was only going to “pollute public discourse”, as one Twitter user put it.

While we may disagree with views that oppose our own, is condemnation of media outlets who broadcast these views the answer? The President-elect’s success suggests that there is a disconnect between the social media bubble we often find ourselves in and the abundance of balanced views in the world beyond the internet.  

The internet is what you make of it. It is each individual's responsibility to seek out news beyond your own ideals - or not to. 

Until we do, there will be no room for shock and awe as a result of being trapped in a self-imposed echo chamber. We will continue to be left in the dark and with those questions remaining unanswered.