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Help, we're trapped in the echo-chamber

If we're liberal, we're listening... right?

A white background with letters made up of various different fonts and colours says "use your voice"

CW: This article discusses cases of racial violence and sexual harm that some readers may find distressing.

In the digital age we live in, it's unsurprising that we fill our feeds with people who align with our views, lick our wounds, agree with our morals, and take a stand for the things we believe in. We can leave the real world of difficult conversations and challenging days at work for a virtual world that allows us to concur with like-minded people. For our mental health, this is important; nobody wants to fall into the comparison trap and three hours later find themselves aimlessly scrolling, wondering when they will be able to take 30 holidays a year and have their children eat only organic food.

However, when it comes to the important stuff, the things we hold dear are the issues we actively engage with. What if our algorithmic feed will never allow us to break through the mould and get our viewpoint heard by people who may not agree with everything we say?

"Acitvism is: a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue"

You could argue with me, quite rightly, if we base our views on activism by this definition and plan our arguments around it, is it necessary to fill our feeds with viewpoints and arguments from the other side? But I wonder, if we aren't taking all humans and all sides into account, how will we ever know that we really are on the right side of justice?

A neon light sign shows a notification for 0 likes on Instagram

Please don't get me wrong; I am not a philosopher of political, environmental, or any other activism; my feed could do with a revamp. Excuse the obviousness, but couldn't we all afford to be a little less mindless with our social media presence?

Our feeds are comforting. They fill with like-minded people that make us feel less alone. I occupy a tiny corner of the world that is pretty conservative in its views. Most of my family don’t agree with my outspoken opinions, and my Nana lovingly refers to me as a “modern-thinker”. But what begins as a like or a follow to some fellow-minded folk quickly becomes a rat trap of confirmation bias and powerful proprietary algorithms.

"Confirmation bias is the natural human tendency to seek, interpret, and remember new information in accordance with preexisting beliefs."

Social media relies on adaptive algorithms to profit from the endless scrolling that keeps its users interested and online. The algorithm looks for what we “like” or “retweet” and whom we “follow” and will suggest users that are similar in opinion, content, and beliefs.

This is great for discovering your new favourite niches, such as cats who can knit or an online book group that reads exclusive Viking literature. Still, it is problematic for the echo chambers in which we find ourselves, where alternative perspectives are few and far between.

As egotistical beings, it feels good when somebody we think is more intelligent or clued up about something agrees with what we already believe to be true. Every time a politician we follow agrees with us, we perform internal jazz hands and wonder if we should sign up to do politics at Oxford. It is far easier to cuddle up cosy with a friendly online community than face the cold, harsh reality of a world populated with challenging perspectives and confrontation. Confirmation bias is innate in all human beings from all walks of life, “if we acknowledge its presence we can take steps to diminish the hold it has on our thinking”.

Lots of people are stood in a line, all looking at their phones

Here are five ways to crack open that chamber

1) Avoid Performative Activism

If you don't have the time or resources to invest in an injustice, try not to give in to the peer pressure of appearing as you do. Activism to increase ego and social capital isn't activism for the right reasons. If you won't sign petitions, actively read or change your behaviour, and/or will not talk with your family about the racial or sexual slur. Then no real change will occur.

2) Actively seek other opinions.

Talk to your family about why they hold certain political beliefs; we should and can have difficult conversations without it descending into chaos and Uncle Keith saying he isn't bringing roast potatoes for Christmas dinner. Read news articles that offer a differing side to your argument. Search and listen to people who see the other side of the coin. Staying true to your morals is always what you should do, but try to be compassionate and hold space for all the people on this planet.

3) Diversity is the flavour of life.

As an avid bookworm, one of my favourite things is discovering new literature from around the globe. Diversify your social media feeds. Seek opinions from other cultures, from working-class people, and people who have never even heard of the word "influencer".

4) Embrace the rebels.

Step back from perfectly glossy Instagram feeds. Look for the people who are furious with the way something is. If their writing is disjointed and messy and full of passion. They are the people who really care about what they believe. Listen to the people who trip over their own words as they flail their arms around and fight for the injustices this country and many others face.

5) Critical thinking

Finally, and this is the one I really want you to pay attention to - think. What does the person who you are consuming from have to gain? Are they popular, rich, or a politician? Do they want their ego stroking as social media declares them "a good person", is it a newspaper with a particular political bias, or do they take the time to explain what they mean and why they believe it? Sit with yourself and ask what do I want to put out into this world? Who am I inside?


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