Social media and technology have dramatically shaped the world in which we live. According to We Are Social's 2016 Digital Snapshot, almost half of the global population uses the internet, and there are over 2.31 billion social media accounts.
Social media offers a variety of benefits, including improved connectivity and global information access. People can expand their networks across continents and share news stories like never before. In one minute, 300 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube and over 4 million Facebook users like a post. Content consumption is growing exponentially and, by 2017, it is estimated that people will spend more than eight hours of their day consuming content.
Social media and internet services continue to evolve as the demand for content and the ways in which it is consumed rapidly changes. As a result, the post-digital era is headed towards curated content. Targeted ads, smart newsfeeds and personalized content delivery are becoming the norm.
Such curation enables people to literally create their own virtual worlds -- they can personalize their newsfeed to cater to their interests and social networks. While this convenience seems advantageous for consumers at large, it also poses a certain amount of danger.
A newsfeed of this sort will only reflect the content a person chooses to follow. Depending on a person's content choices, the consumer can become completely isolated from the world around them. While one person's world can be filled with finance news and the latest stock exchange updates, another could be fuelled by gossip and revolve around the lives of the Kardashians. Theoretically, a person could be able to describe the exact details of a Kardashian's outfit of the day, but be completely oblivious to the unstable economic markets that define their country. The specificity in which people can filter their content creates an environment that not only caters to their interests but also feeds their biases.
Consider the American elections, if you will. If a person lives in a community that actively supports Hillary Clinton, it can be assumed that most of their network's social media posts and local media will share pro-Hillary content and/or negative commentary directed at Donald Trump. From mocking memes to articles that point out fallacies in Trump's arguments, it would be easy for this person to naively think that Hillary is a shoe-in to win the election.
After all, why would anyone vote for Trump when everyone they speak with are tweeting #ImWithHer and are reading all the negative press surrounding him? The implicit risk in this assumption is that this person may not vote in the election. If it seems like a slam dunk election, they could assume their vote won't matter.
Yet, what many neglect to realize is that there are other social media worlds and networks outside of the curated bubble that they have created. People tend to build networks with like-minded people, so it is natural that one's immediate circle will share similar opinions or content interests. Just as there are #ImWithHer communities, however, there are also many #MakeAmericaGreatAgain networks. Here, they may be equally as confident in Trump's victory as the Hillary's supporters are for her.
What can be learned from this?
Top three takeaways to consider when building a social network or a curated newsfeed:
- Keep it diverse - While it is nice to connect with people with similar interests and passions, it can be beneficial to add a few content sources or social accounts that challenge your views. Even if it's just to be aware of other perspectives, diversity helps ensure you don't get blind-sided and miss out on key occurrences outside of your interests or community network.
- Don't assume - There is a lesson to be observed from the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare, beyond the fact that slow and steady can win the race. The Tortoise won the race, in part, because the Hare was overly confident in his abilities and took a break when he assumed he would win. This assumption led to his defeat and serves as a reminder not to always see things through until the end. There are two sides to every story and likely an opposing perspective or voting group that do not see the circumstance as clearly as you may believe.
- Remember those offline - It may be hard to believe, but not everyone follows or knows the same celebrities and online influencers. While a shared opinion may be apparent through all media outlets and influencers you follow, there is still two-thirds of the global population NOT online. It is valuable to speak to people offline and remember that a world exists outside of any of your online networks.
In summary, it is crucial to remember that our perspectives are constantly filtered to our own interests and biases. To remain an informed global citizen, we must keep our biases at arms length and realize the importance of our place in an interconnected world.
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