Tolerance, diversity and the social media filter bubble


social media filter bubble

I see angry people. My Facebook stream is full of ’em.

A couple of times a month I see a post like this from an exasperated friend:

“I’ve had it. I’m unfollowing everybody but 12 people.”

Most of us have probably initiated some sort of social media purge but every time we do, we move toward a social media stream that is more like … us.

Many of our cherished digital platforms like Facebook and Google employ algorithms that try to guess what we want to see. Based on your previous activities, likes, friends, and a ton of other data points, these sites are constantly culling what you see based on who you are, what you like, and where you are. If you and I search for the same term, we’ll likely get radically different results based on these factors. Our algorithmic guides are conforming to our perceived preferences and views.

Our personal choices and search engine experiences are inexorably creating a “filter bubble” around us that repels opposing views and opinions. I wonder what the impact of that might be over time.

Maybe our world would be a little more compassionate, a little more interesting and informed if we were forced to come face to face with the opposition now and then. Maybe we should be forced to face the “otherness of the others.”

Valuing the otherness of the other

In a famous 2011 commencement speech, author, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel speaks of the importance of the “otherness of the other:”

“We are not alone in this world. God alone is alone. Human beings are not. We are here to be together with others, and I insist on the others — which means, in some places, in some groups, they are suspicious of the other. I see the otherness of the other, which appeals to me. In fact it is the otherness of the other that makes me who I am.

“I am always eager to learn from the other. And the other is, to me, not an enemy, but a companion, an ally, and of course, in some cases of grace, a friend. So the other is never to be rejected, and surely not humiliated.

“I believe that the human being — any human being of any community, any origin, any color — a human being is eternal. Any human being is a challenge. Any human being is worthy of my attention, of my love occasionally.

“And therefore I say it to you: When you are now going into a world which is hounded, obsessed with so much violence, often so much despair — when you enter this world and you say the world is not good today, good! Correct it!

Seeking the other

I believe Mr. Wiesel has a point. If the otherness of the other helps defines us, how does this fit in a world where we build digital fortresses to keep diverse opinions out?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about 15 Amazing ways social media is changing the world. It was a glimpse of global impact based on observation from diverse countries around the world. There was a surprise in this report for me.

One of the primary discoveries was that people everywhere generally find ways to make social media serve local purposes and reinforce existing tribes, instead of breaking down international boundaries.

It more or less confirms that the web does not bring together “others,” it keeps us in our silos.

This made me think about my own social media presence. While I have connections in every corner of the world, in general I do not spend my time online learning about their cultures. I tend to spend most of time with people in my business world … people similar to me. I don’t recall a single close social media connection I have in Japan, China, or South Korea. A missed opportunity, isn’t it?

I am not quite “other-less,” but I have a lot of room for improvement. What’s on your mind on this subject of the social media filter bubble?

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Connor Lucock

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