It's time to grow up and diversify your newsfeed

Omar Al-Ubaydli
Omar Al-Ubaydli
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You may enjoy having a Facebook or Twitter feed full of opinions that reinforce your worldview, but doing so is a dereliction of your responsibility to society.

Social media echo chambers are making you less tolerant of people who have different views to you, and it is undermining modern civilization. It is your civic duty to inject some intellectual diversity into your daily media consumption.

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I am a libertarian, a rare political leaning which automatically makes it difficult for me to encounter people with a similar outlook. As a result, my Facebook newsfeed is highly diverse, and features articles posted by communists, socialists, conservatives, neoliberals, nationalists, anarchists, anti-imperialists, and many other exotic varieties of human being. Consequently, I regularly change my mind about things, and don’t really hate any of these groups.

My willingness to entertain diverse viewpoints is uncommon. You can see this in most social media threads: they are typically populated by comments completely aligned with the opening poster’s view, creating near-perfect echo chambers. On the rare occasion of articulating a dissenting opinion, a micro-mob rapidly assembles in response, resulting in the digital analogue to a food fight in the school canteen.

The smugness on display is almost unbearable. Rather than seeing intellectual discord as an opportunity to learn from others, most people have a very primitive outlook. They think: “My friends and I are well-informed and righteous. You and your friends are misinformed and malevolent. I engage you as a favor to you, so that you might realize just how stupid/ignorant/evil your views are and snap out of it.”

A paper I recently read by MIT economist Ro’ee Levy helped convince me of what I had already suspected. His study showed that getting people to agree to consume more politically diverse newsfeeds resulted in them having views toward people from the “other side” that were considerably less negative.

Note that hating others less is not the same as capitulating to their vile and deranged opinions, so it is not something to be scared of. Being worried about getting brainwashed by a little diversity in your newsfeed suggests that whatever orthodox view you favor has probably already immersed your brain.

In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with President Trump’s Twitter page shown in the background on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (File photo: AFP)
In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with President Trump’s Twitter page shown in the background on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (File photo: AFP)

Regularly exposing yourself to the views of people who think differently to you humanizes those views, and makes it harder for your mind to trick you into classifying intellectual opponents as bogeymen who need to be suppressed.

This wasn’t such a big problem in yesteryear because news was much more homogenized in its delivery, and you had to exert quite a lot of effort to only hear one view-point. The tailoring algorithms underlying modern social media are a game changer, making you have to try extra hard to ensure diversity.

Crucially, these companies’ profits are based on creating echo chambers that keep you engaged, so waiting for Mark Zuckerberg among others to address the problem is futile.

If the market is failing, surely government can help? This approach has two drawbacks. First, regulating cutting-edge technology requires a sound understanding of the technology being used, but as anyone who has witnessed a US senate hearing on social media will attest, when older politicians hear about hashtags, they probably think of the fried potatoes commonly seen in American brunches.

Second, there are enough crooked politicians in every country for citizens to think twice about handing them the media regulation reins, lest they be wielded repressively.

More importantly, forcing people to digest diverse news is probably a lot less effective than convincing them of the importance of diversity, and then letting them seek it out of their own volition.

Are you one of those smug liberals who loves to read MSNBC/The Guardian and imagine that conservatives are cretinous misanthropes? Or perhaps you are one of those Fox-addicted parochial conservatives who thinks that liberals are loot-loving commies?

Then it’s time to heed Isaac Asimov’s words: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.”

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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