Finding Frenemies

In the Bubble

Social media makes it really, really easy to end up in an echo chamber. Follow your friends and favorite celebrities on Twitter, and your Twitter feed will be full of tweets from your friends and favorite celebrities. I know that sounds super obvious, but slow down with me and reflect on that for a second. I’m sure you don’t agree with your friends on everything, but our friends tend to be people whom we can relate to and understand. They’re more likely to talk about things we already care about and hold opinions we find agreeable on those topics. In the same way, our favorite celebrities are more likely to talk about the work they’re doing on movies, music, and other projects that we love.

Now, on its own, that may not be a bad thing. But since social media encourages us to surround ourselves with like-minded people, it can expose us to a risk that might not be immediately obvious. The more time we spend in familiar spaces, the more we start to assume that our view of the world is the same picture everyone else sees. We expect people to know what we know, like what we like, and believe what we believe. We end up in a bubble.

Popular websites often take advantage of this expectation. Facebook suggests new people based on your mutual friends, and when you open articles your friends share, it will often suggest related ones. Youtube suggests more videos for you to watch based on what you’re watching now. Amazon suggests other products you can buy based on what you’ve bought and browsed recently.

Again, nothing is wrong with that on its own. But the danger we run into, is that we may not be encouraged to consider different viewpoints and ways of life.

Being in a bubble may not be so bad when you’re talking about hobbies and recreation, but the danger goes beyond that. You’re not only less likely to discover new music and games, but less likely to experience perspectives and events from other parts of the world. You’re less likely to meet people who have different life circumstances, needs, and hopes. Social media sites don’t always encourage us to challenge ourselves, but it’s an important way to grow. Let’s talk about why that’s important, and then some ways we can do something about it.

Why

One major reason to regularly expose ourselves to different perspectives is to combat something called confirmation bias. In short, confirmation bias is our natural tendency to prefer ideas that agree with what we already believe and dismiss ideas that don’t, usually subconsciously. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves nodding in agreement every time someone supports what we already think and assuming people who think differently are weird or unusual, even though it may turn out that they’re in the majority!

You may have seen the consequences of this when you started college. If you or one of your friends came from a smaller town or had a really tight community, that group might have all had race or politics or religion in common, only to end up on a campus full of people with different backgrounds. Without meaning to, you might have developed some subconscious assumptions about what people with those different backgrounds were like, and that might have hurt your ability to be a good neighbor to those folks on campus.

Another very important reason to challenge ourselves with other views is that it helps us understand our own views better - especially our faith. Imagine that someone asks you “Why do you believe in God?” Do you want your answer to be “I don’t know...I just do”?

No! You want to be able to share the profound reality of God’s power in your life, in the world around you, and in His Word. In Acts 19, when the Apostle Paul was in Ephesus, he didn’t just join with other Christians to pray and worship. He also spent two years reasoning and debating with people who did not follow Jesus. He listened to their concerns, sought answers to their questions, and shared the Gospel through an earnest exchange.

It can be scary and challenging to discuss different points of view. We might not feel like we know enough to back up what we believe. We might be afraid that the other person will outwit us. We might be afraid to find out if we were wrong about something! But that’s also why it’s so important to seek out these opportunities: if we’re wrong about something, it may hurt to admit it, but we get correction and can go forward with better understanding. And if we’re right, we come away from the exchange even better prepared to defend the truth.

What Should I Do?

First, take a look at your feeds on your social media of choice.

Are you seeing lots of different perspectives? Are you seeing different races, religions, and political ideas? Are you following people who share things that make you stop and think?

When I did this, I realized that almost all of my Facebook friends were Christians, and most of them had similar political views. I was seeing lots of posts that made me nod my head and say “yeah, that’s a good point.” I wasn’t seeing a lot of posts that forced me to consider something difficult.

When I realized that, I did a few things:

  • I wrote a post asking my friends what news sources I should follow so that I could hear different political opinions, making sure to look for sources that tried to be respectful and open-minded. I asked for trustworthy sources- places that didn’t give an unhealthy bias.
  • I followed a few Facebook pages from different religious groups, making sure to look for pages that showed an interest in friendship between people of all faiths.
  • I told Facebook to show me a little less from certain friends who mostly posted things I already agree with. This was mostly for friends who talk a lot about politics on Facebook. I still check in on those friends by going to their profiles, but my news feed is a little more balanced when they don’t dominate it. You might not need to do this -- I only did it because I had a few really prolific friends.

An important disclaimer.

I’m not telling you that you have to go looking for people who bash or attack you or your beliefs. You don’t have to put up with someone who constantly makes fun of Christianity or belittles your political views. Just as we should always treat others with courtesy and respect, we should seek out people who can debate and disagree with courtesy and respect.

These are all things that you can do! Take a look at what kinds of things you see on social media, and look for friends, pages, organizations, and authors that increase the variety of your newsfeed. Make a special effort to challenge yourself. I know we often go to social media as a way to relax and unwind, and it’s not usually relaxing to have our point of view challenged, or to read posts that really make us think. But we can have incredibly powerful experiences through social media, and take away the power of the suggestion machine by making our feeds more open and diverse.

What do you think? Can you take on the challenge? What does your news feed look like today?


Want to learn more? Check out Finding Your Voice and Finding Allies.

Read more about Andrew on his bio page, or follow him on Twitter @kaldrenon.

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