Social media has become the main source of news for a significant proportion of young people. This change in how we receive and express news allows people to create a social media feeds filled with people of similar political beliefs to themselves, described as ‘political bubbles’. Be it by intentionally following people because of their political views, or by general social factors such as connecting with people of similar age and occupation to you, everyone is creating their own political sub-culture.
Although such bubbles can exist in real life, they are far more profound online where strangers or acquaintances are prepared to share their political views when they may not do so face-to-face, and one can refine their feed by simply adding and deleting new followers.
Primarily, the concern with such a bubble is the limit to both the variation of news one receives and its objectivity. Rather different to ‘fake news’, information can come from reputable sources but still not provide a balanced assessment. If your news source is Facebook and you are following accounts supporting a specific party or ideology, you are likely to only hear about the success of that party. Or, even if we assume that you are seeing all the stories, only hearing them from organisations or people with certain views will present them in a somewhat ‘bias’ light.
The problem here is not necessarily the objectivity, since this is unavoidable and has always been the case with print, but that in reading online, we are less conscious of the source. This then inclines to see the content as a factual piece, with the mentality that ‘Google doesn’t lie’, rather than the opinion article that it is.
Consequently, critical analysis is stifled. With your online political bubble reposting such politically warped articles and corroborating them, this angle is continually reinforced to the point where you see little disagreement with it.
Within your bubble, you continually reinforce one another’s ideas, see no flaws in your opinions, and so become ‘correct’. Should anyone challenge you, you don’t accept that they have a differing opinion, but instead attack them for being categorically ‘wrong’. This mentality of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is not only unhealthy regarding accepting others’ opinions, but further limits our capacity for genuine political debate. Such attacks can even make some people feel too embarrassed to voice an ‘unpopular’ opinion in their social circle.
Thomas Jefferson put it eloquently: ‘If you can only afford one newspaper, buy the opposition’s'. We need to become conscious of the political alignments of the news sources we access and broaden the scope of what we read. We must acknowledge the ‘political bubbles’ around us and seek to question everything we read, regardless of whether we agree with it. This is the only way we can hope to avoid being influenced by the opinions of those around us and the catchy headlines we are bombarded with, and instead receive a balanced assessment of society and form our own substantiated opinions.