Does social media make us narrow-minded?

Imagine if the only views you ever heard were echoes of your own thoughts. Would you be more or less-informed about the world?

Social media provides us with the ability to share our thoughts, ideas and opinions with friends and communities who share our interests. It also provides us the ability to filter the content to which we are exposed to only that which interests us. Some platforms even do that filtering for us, based on our own use habits. What results is our social networks become homogeneous groups – people who think just like us.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the spreading of misinformation online included two interesting findings about our social media habits:

1. We are susceptible to confirmation bias

As humans, we have a natural desire to want others to agree with us, or “like” our posts.  We reinforce this when we limit our social networks to communities of common interest. This leads to confirmation bias if we only ever receive feedback which agrees with our own perspectives.

2. Our social networks become echo chambers

An echo chamber as defined in the Oxford Dictionary is “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered”. Because our social networks are communities of common interest, the content that we follow and share will be similar in terms of view-points.

While we may feel social media broadens our horizons by allowing us to connect with people throughout the world, it can in fact lead to much narrower perspectives.

Overcoming the echo effect

As I considered my social media feeds, I asked myself “what am I not seeing?”. Most news outlets tend to be either left or right-leaning in their reporting. I now try to include a balance of both in my feed. I believe equally important to my news feed is engaging in discussions beyond my online network. Face-to-face conversations about current events and life challenges always tend to shed new light on my own views.

What are you doing to overcome the echo effect in your social networks?

 Is social media making us narrow-minded? http://bit.ly/2fWmaFo

 Are you caught in a social media echo chamber? Find out how to get out of it. http://bit.ly/2fWmaFo

 

7 thoughts on “Does social media make us narrow-minded?

  1. Great post….!!!You raised an important question…Social media probably does make us more narrow minded…We tend to agree more with people that agree with us and vice versa!!! Your method of trying to find a balance by checking other sources is a great way to see other sides to issues…That way you can minimise the bias….

    • Thanks for your comments! I do think if we are aware that the potential for bias is there with social media, we’ll be more open-minded in how we interpret what we see, and challenge our own thinking when we need to.

  2. First of all, I like the frogs better than monkeys! (French-Canadian here who loves frogs)

    Thank for this insight into one of the major risks of social media. And although I realize news outlets have a tendency to be biased (e.g. Fox News), I still reserve the right to make up my own mind when I read any article or watch a newscast. I was a bit shocked when I read your blog, because I didn’t know social media networks could decide what you are fed.

    Louise

    • Thanks for your comment Louise. The social media platforms algorithms feeding us specific content is based on our habits and usage. It’s all about making it more convenient for us as users, to keep us using the platform. Similar to Netflix showing me other movies I might like based on what I have watched or Amazon showing me what other people have purchased who bought the same I item I did. It is convenient, but good for us as users and consumers to explore what else is out there on our own.

  3. This! Yes, social media does make us narrow minded. It also makes us unable to deal with people who don’t agree with us – it seems to be all or nothing today. You agree with me or I throw you out of my life. Somehow we have to get back to the place where we can hear each other out and learn to get along in spite of our differences. Great thoughts, Susan!

  4. Great post Susan. This is something that I think about often.
    The fact that we now use effective search engines to look things up makes us miss out on knowledge.
    Here is a simple example. If we look something up in a dictionary, we have to sort through a long list of words and we inevitably read up on a few words here and there that catch our eye along the way. So we’ve learned something new.
    When we look up a definition online, we only get that word.
    Social media can work the same way. We miss out on all of the ‘accidental’ learning that may take us in new directions.

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