A friend of mine posted this video. The friend in question is an intelligent, balanced person and someone I like and trust a lot. He also posts to social media quite often, and because he is so damn interesting and smart, I tend to look for his posts and like them.
According to the filter bubble theory, first proposed by the brilliant Eli Pariser, because I have expressed interest in these posts by liking them, commenting, engaging, I am more likely to be served more of these posts. Facebook, Google and other platforms give me more of what they think I am going to like, based on my previous activity, and their own complex algorithm which identifies what I like, and what the people I like like.
Obviously neither Facebook, Google, Twitter and others have no intention to create a more divided world where people live in bubbles where they only encounter information that reinforces their world view. The filter bubble is an unintended consequence of their very valuable ability to identify our interests and preferences based on our history, our bias and our communities.
Facebook has addressed the question directly and commissioned research, which unsurprisingly defended their algorithmic approach. Their research discovered that although the filter bubble phenomenon is real, what a user chooses to click on has a much greater effect on the limits of their news.
But that’s not much comfort for anyone who is interested in halting this divisive narrowing of everyone’s universe. Because now we know that not only is it human nature to seek out ideas and opinions that reinforce your own, but that the menu from which we are choosing is increasingly becoming tailored to mirror our opinions too.
Which brings me back to my friend posting that video. My friend clearly doesn’t agree with what this young lad in the video is saying. And the lad is not saying very much. It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s poignant. It raises lots of questions about low information voters and the consequences of decisions like Brexit being placed in the hands, minds and votes of an ill informed democracy.
But what if, instead of posting the worst, most ill-informed, embarrassing example of the other side of the argument, my friend had instead sought out the best and most illuminating argument he could find.and posted that.
The issue divided Britain almost exactly in half and presumably there are people on both sides with better arguments than the young fellow in the video. Whichever side you are on, wouldn’t it be better to try and understand what that point might be?
That’s what we do at Counterpointing. Every day, we source cogent and credible perspectives on a wide range of topics and post them side by side. We don’t have any preference for which side any user might be on when they enter our site, and what side they are on when they leave. We trust they’ll make better decisions and make up their own mind. It doesn’t hurt to encounter ideas you disagree with. They’re not infectious diseases. In fact, if you are brave enough to really listen to what they other side is saying, you might emerge stronger.
As Nelson Mandela said, “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial and uninformed.”