4 ways to burst your social media filter bubble
My friend Matt Anslow recently lamented the growth of social media “rage-bait” or “outrage porn.” Tim Kreider defines this as, “Any type of media—including social media—designed to elicit a response of outrage or indignation from its audience for the purpose of gaining attention, traffic, or to affect some political objective.”
Why is social media outrage so common?
There is a time for outrage; especially over injustices, inequalities, and the like. But if outrage is our default—and if we are expressing it often—then something is wrong. Matt Anslow challenged his friends to “wind back the outrage a bit. Maybe have a rest, pray, embark on a fast, or something like that.” I appreciate his challenge, greatly.
Social media feeds this problem. Many of our friends feel outraged by an issue, and the anger grows in our social media feed. Our “opponents” are wrong; and we are going to “speak out on the issue”, along with all those who share our convictions. Our opinions become further entrenched. We argue with those who challenge our outrage or views. And the polarization becomes even deeper.
The growth of “filter bubbles” exacerbates this issue.
Most of us are in “filter bubbles.” Most of the opinions, news, and stories we hear are from people who are like us, and who share our views. Most of the news and opinions we see shared on social media are shared by people in our circle of associates or friends. These don’t just share our opinions, outlook, concerns, and prejudices—they also reinforce these. It’s easy to think we are right, when everyone seems to agree with us; and especially people who we are close to or admire. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are pushing us into “filter bubbles,” as are our other news sources. We are becoming increasingly polarized. Our appreciation of other ways of seeing the world is shrinking. And our intellectual, social, and spiritual lives suffer as a consequence.
In his book The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser observes, “Your computer monitor is a kind a one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click.”
Eli goes on to say, “The filter bubble tends to dramatically amplify confirmation bias—in a way, it’s designed to. Consuming information that conforms to our ideas of the world is easy and pleasurable; consuming information that challenges us to think in new ways or question our assumptions is frustrating and difficult. This is why partisans of one political stripe tend not to consume the media of another. As a result, an information environment built on click signals will favor content that supports our existing notions about the world over content that challenges them.”
We need to get out of our “filter bubbles.” We’re in a “filter bubble” when we only get news or opinions that we already agree with, from sources that hold our existing and established views. Too often, we only listen to people with political and cultural views that are similar to ours. We like to hang around like-minded people and also those who belong to our own ethnic communities. Social media encourages us to only hear people who share our views. We need to break down this polarization, and listen to people who disagree with us, or who see the world differently.
So, what should we do? Here are 4 things that help us break down our “filter bubbles.”
1. Diversify your news sources
One simple way to get out of your bubble, is to diversify your news sources. You can do that by using these websites and their tools:
“Read Across the Aisle”: www.readacrosstheaisle.com – The App will help you “discover the news that’s been algorithmically hidden from your social media news feed.” It sees the political and social biases of your news feed, and your online reading, and indicates that bias to you (through colour coding). It also forces alternative views into your line of sight.
“AllSides”: www.allsides.com – AllSides put it this way: “Don’t be fooled by bias. Think for yourself. See news and issues from multiple perspectives, and discuss like adults.” AllSides is a website that offer you a wide range of political perspectives in the key news stories of the day. It has a remarkable crowd-driven identification system for political bias, which helps you immediately identify the political and social inclinations of the article and news source.
“Polar News”: www.getpolarnews.com – Polar News pairs articles with polarized perspectives, giving you both sides of opinion on news items. Whether it’s climate change, race relations, health care, Brexit, immigration, same-sex marriage, the TPP, guns, or North Korea, you’ll be sure to receive examinations of the issue from polar offsite sides of the debate.
“Echo Chamber Club”: www.echochamber.club – The Echo Chamber Club works against the social media algorisms that only show you what you and your friends “like.” The website helps us challenge some of our core beliefs and opinion, and see the world through the eyes of others. “To burst this bubble, we need an injection of alternative opinion and different voices… The Echo Chamber Club delivers ideas that won’t appear on your news feed, views from the other side of the street–curated and delivered to give you a different, better balanced outlook.”
“Escape Your Bubble”: www.escapeyourbubble.com – Escape Your Bubble helps you understand people, ideas, and opinions you disagree with or are unfamiliar with. You tell the website what you’d like to understand, and it curates posts to your Facebook news feed.
2. Try to write something from the perspective of someone you disagree with
Tyler Cowen makes an astute observation: Sometimes reading perspectives other than your own simply serves to reinforce your prejudices and “confirmation bias.” So, he offers a challenge. Try to write an article or outline an argument, from another perspective.
Cass Sunstein puts the problem this way: “On television and radio, an increasingly popular way of presenting political disagreement — with simple, stylized “pro” and “con” views, often rendered by dogmatic extremists — is unlikely to make things much better and may make them worse. Psychological studies have established that individuals display “confirmation bias,” which means that if they hold an opinion about something, they will be fortified in that belief by partisan presentations of both sides. If viewers think that the death penalty is illegitimate, exposure to presentations both for and against the death penalty is likely to increase the viewers’ preexisting convictions. If radio or television programs show “pro” and “con” views expressed by people who distrust one another and attack each other’s motives, political polarization will be intensified, as viewers tend to identify with one side and caricature the opposing view.”
So, Tyler Cowen offers another strategy. “Keep a diary, write a blog, or set up a separate and anonymous Twitter account. And through that medium, write occasional material in support of views you don’t agree with.” It’s a simple idea, but it just may be effective in helping us be more sympathetic to other people’s point of view.
3. Spend time with people who are different from you (especially in your neighborhood!)
Here’s an even better way to burst our “filter bubbles”: Go out and meet people who differ from you. Learn to talk with people with differing political, social, religious, racial, and other views. Practice listening to others. Even if you never agree with them, you can listen and learn, and show honour and respect.
Dwight Hopkins reminds us, “This life of Jesus and the best of Christian legacies compel us to enter into a way of life of intercultural engagement-the interaction of people across races, ethnicities, and nationalities to learn to value and celebrate each group’s traditions.”
We need to learn to bless, honor, and embrace the “other.” We need to forge genuine and deep friendships with people who are different from us (different politics, genders, ethnicities, class, and so on).
I think this is about investing deeply in local relationships. In many cities, towns, and communities today, people are localizing their lives. They’re tired of feeling disconnected. People are planting urban gardens and serving with community-based organizations. They’re exploring sustainability and simpler lifestyles. They’re buying, building, or renting properties that facilitate shared lives and community living. Extended family and multi-family households are increasingly common. People are buying local. They’re supporting neighborhood causes, organizations, and sporting teams. They’re getting rid of cars and catching public transport or walking and cycling to work. Many people are urban-homesteading. People are becoming locavores—growing, buying, and consuming fresh, local produce. They’re collecting rainwater, keeping urban livestock, canning and preserving foods, and growing household, street, and community vegetable gardens. People are becoming increasingly passionate about living, working, spending, loving, serving, and growing local.
This is a wonderful opportunity to get to know and love and listen to people who differ from us. Too many Christians commute out of their suburbs for church and ministry. Root yourself deeply in your suburb. Get to know the families, personalities, issues, and hopes. Worship Christ locally. Serve Christ locally. Be discipled to Christ locally. Eat, love, produce, laugh, mourn, spend, grow, and pray locally. And, as stewards of God’s creation, we need to nurture local ecologies. These include green spaces, community gardens, and the plants and animals unique to our area. Invest in local relationships and economies. Encourage the wellbeing and prosperity of local establishments and the people who own them and work in them.
Place-making offers wonderful opportunities for understanding and reconciliation. It pushes us into relationship with people who hold different religious, political, social, and other views from us. And it demands a movement away from autonomy, disconnectedness, and anonymity. It demands we give up our guardedness and inhospitality, and embrace others (especially those different from us). We make the most of place-making’s reconciling potential through rootedness, stability, localization, and deep, long-term relationships. Staying is the new going. We choose to stay in this local place and in these local relationships. And we see God’s grace manifested in the change and transformation of local neighborhoods. In this local place, we grow in loving obedience, missional service, prophetic advocacy, and generosity and contentment. In this particular place, we practice peace and reconciliation, and openness to those who challenge our “confirmation bias” and our “filter bubbles.”
4. Practice hospitality
Hospitality is about breaking divisions. It’s about dismantling borders. Hospitality builds bridges, not walls. It’s a process of crossing boundaries and opening hearts and lives. It’s about bringing things together: both genders, all ethnicities, a range of political views, and all social and economic groups. It’s about welcoming the “other” and the stranger into our lives and families and homes.
David Fitch writes, “Christians must consistently invite our neighbors into our homes for dinner, sitting around laughing, talking, listening and asking questions of each other. The home is where we live, where we converse and settle conflict, where we raise children. We arrange our furniture and set forth our priorities in the home. We pray for each other there. We share hospitality out of His blessings there. In our homes then, strangers get full view of the message of our life. Inviting someone into our home for dinner says “Here, take a look, I am taking a risk and inviting you into my life.” By inviting strangers over for dinner, we resist the fragmenting isolating forces of late capitalism in America. It is so exceedingly rare that just doing it speaks volumes as to what it means to be a Christian in a world of strangers.”
Hospitality involves opening up our homes, our lands, our nations, our families, our wallets, and our lives. Hospitality is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hospitality involves rediscovering what it means for women, the poor, the sick, the socially marginalized, and daily common meals to be at the center of our life together. These must be at the heart of our service and mission in the world. Hospitality is about people from different politics and opinions coming together in a spirit of mutual respect, honor, and dialogue. Our lives and churches will only be places of reconciliation and healing when they grasp and practice the hospitality of the gospel, which stands in contradiction of our contemporary “filter bubbles.”
These are a few ways we can burst our “filter bubbles.” Can you think of other ways? I’d love to hear your suggestions.
(Image credit: January 31st 2017 | London | Juan Schinas Alvargonzalez)
Graham Joseph Hill
Graham Joseph Hill (PhD, Flinders University) is Interim Principal and Director of Research at Stirling Theological College (University of Divinity) in Melbourne, Australia. He has planted and pastored churches, and been in theological education for twenty years. Graham is the author or editor of 6 books including Global Church (IVP, 2016), Healing Our Broken Humanity, (IVP, 2018, with Grace Ji-Sun Kim), and Salt, Light and a City (Cascade, 2017). He also directs The Global Church Project.
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