Break Down the Siloes-Frequent Use Of Social Media Reinforcing Our Biases?

Drowning in Social Media

A colleague and I recently discussed an article How Facebook Makes Us Dumber published by Blomberg Views, Cass R. Sunstein and the conversation snowballed from there about the benefits of real-time, face to face dialogue rather than the virtual world conversation and interactions that tend to occur… “Just being able to see someone’s facial expressions as you talk to them can completely change the conversation”-started this dialogue.

Most of us have (or at some time, have had) a Facebook (FB) account and are a segment of the larger technology based online social community, sharing our “status”, pictures, life events, and information/news/opinions with friends, family, coworkers, etc. This piece caught our attention as it brings to light the merits (or lack thereof) of frequently using such a platform for our social fulfillment. The article discusses the results of a recent study led by Michela Del Vicario conducted on Facebook users and provides compelling evidence that many people have a strong tendency toward confirmation bias. Confirmation bias“ is the tendency for people to (consciously or unconsciously) seek out information that conforms to their pre-existing view points and subsequently ignore information that goes against them, both positive and negative”

According to the authors, confirmation bias turns out to play a vital role “in the creation of online echo chambers”. The article explains this to the likes of an elite social club or “groupie” mentality. That implies “birds of a feather flock together” and thus we built our silos and our thoughts are isolated from dissenting views. Are we listening to only what we want to hear? And tuning out the rest? The study investigates the controversial theory “when people are online, do they encounter opposing views, or do they create the virtual equivalent of gated communities?” Consequently it indicates that the news we get from the niche social group, true or false, we tend to assume is credible without verification of the content.  Furthermore, we tend to spread it-why in the world would our FB friends and family share propaganda or spin stories? Right? Actually wrong-The confirmation bias sets in faster if the knowledge is shared and reinforced.

The author attributes this confirmation bias to the spreading of misinformation, unsubstantiated claims or allegations, conspiracy theories and provides examples of it in current social environment (such public health outbreak events), some of which could have possibly lead to fear and paranoia.

Ever wonder why FB does not have a dislike button (although an ignore button might be more appropriate), and even if they did have one, would you truly use it? Is it easier to give a dissenting view when you are anonymous (which is not the case in most cases FB users)? Is opposing views in chat rooms where identities are protected provide better platforms for true open-minded discussions? Is it easier to be meaner and upfront/blunt with hidden identities? Or is it the self-confidence we gain from rejection and failures that give us the insights?

Similarly, another article captures We’re Not as Open-Minded As We Think We Are – Lifehacker . The article address what typically happens when your thoughts and convictions are challenged.  Hypothetically, one should open up an alternate perspective to that belief; however, often the opposite takes effect which is known as the “Backfire Effect”. In other words, when we are challenged with new information, it just makes our preexisting belief stronger”

What is unique about FB as a social platform that draws such bias –is it that we pretend to be something we truly aren’t, so it’s easy for us to fall into the web of such biases. Do we want to look filtered and rosy in the eyes of the targeted social cliques which directs us to our “echo chambers”? Are we putting a premium on information that corroborates our thoughts and beliefs and disregard evidence that challenges it? Do we need to diversify our social media microcosm?

Do you agree? although FB may not be the only social media, it just happens to have millions of followers. Learning lesson; let’s do everything in moderation. “We can’t open our mind so much that it falls out yet we can’t close our mind, so that it fogs up”…So I won’t go running to abandon FB, but the key to social media is moderation. But it isn’t up to the social media platforms to raise the standards or for some unlicensed counselor/opinionated blogger to tell you whether or not using FB reinforces your confirmation biases. It is up to you and you alone to decide “how” to use it and refrain from slipping into confirmation bias culture. To the contrarians – if you disagree hope you will challenge me.

Photo Credit: Drowning in Social Media by mkhmarketing CC by 2.0


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