How Not to Live in a Bubble Online
Make your social media feed more inclusive. You’ll be glad you did.
Take a look at your online media consumption — do you only follow white, cisgender Americans? If so, you’re not hearing a lot of perspectives that you might really want.
As a WOC writer, I often find myself searching for structural reasons that explain why certain communities are so homogenous. Why aren’t there more people of color involved in crafting communities, or goth culture, for example? Usually the answer is some combination of erasure and exclusion.
These same forces shape the communities we form on social media. Whether your goal is to help counteract structural inequality by connecting with people from different backgrounds and cultures, or simply to be better informed about current events, representation can help us live better. In other words, making a point to get to know different people counteracts the systems that keep us apart.
Social media algorithms, influencer culture, bias, and bots all work together to accomplish everything from polarizing politics to proliferating misinformation about the coronavirus. And our individual feeds tend to mirror what we could improve about our social and personal lives. Landmark research by Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing, published in The Big Sort, found that since the 1970s Americans have increasingly segregated by religion, politics, and socioeconomic status — something that deepens and perpetuates systemic inequalities. Today, our social media communities reflect these same sorts of divisions.
“People are typically likely to only be connected to people who look and think like them off-line,” says Alok Vaid-Menon, an author/performer/influencer who identifies as Indian American, gender-nonconforming, and transfeminine. “This reproduces a myopic view of the world and makes one think that their individual perception is the same thing as objective reality.” This explains why, for example, many liberals were blindsided by the 2016 election of Donald Trump, a candidate that the New York Times, social media echo chambers, and other sources insisted didn’t need to be taken seriously.