It’s not a secret anymore: Spend your day talking about buying a wallet and the next thing you know, your social media feed is full of wallet ads and shops near you. Nowadays you can find almost everything on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. In addition to communicating through these social media platforms, you can also order online, check various videos, join groups with people you have never met and…read the news. Such dynamic nature of social media sometimes can make you feel that you don’t have the luxury called ‘time’- to understand properly and form your opinion for each and every post you see.
Are you in some sort of rush? Are you fearing that you are missing out?
One experiencing this fear is more likely to not waste any more time and join the online discussion in real-time. One may think; Better say something and stay active than say nothing and disappear from the gigantic world of the internet. It has occurred to me, many times, to whiteness a sword fight between two campuses. Warfare leaving me the bad taste of the urgency to take sides.
You either go left or right, immediately.
You either are with me or against me, automatically.
You either see black or white and nothing in between.
However, I often did not belong anywhere. Or, maybe I just needed more time to position myself. This piece addresses this observation by (hopefully) contributing to a far-reaching and important discussion such as the immense impact of social media in our beliefs, opinion, ‘mental hygiene’, as well as in social interactions.
Let’s try to shed light on the following questions; is social media causing a polarized environment-where people are ‘forced’ to take sides-often without taking the proper time to hear and discuss the arguments? Is it shrinking the space of different opinions or rushing us into having an opinion about almost everything?
People in a rush to take sides
As many of my articles feature different international experts, I don’t usually have the pleasure to meet them in person for writing the article. However, when I do have this chance, I would not miss it.
For this Youth Time piece, I met with Nektar Zogiani, a graduate of Political Science and Journalism with eight years of work experience as a journalist, writer contributor.
He shares the belief that social media has damaged the possibility of a qualitative critique in public space.
“Mostly due to the limitations to express themselves thoroughly and not properly elaborating the issues that people comment about.” Zogiani says, while touching the biggest concern raised by Youth Time contributor through this piece.
“I see every day people who rush to take a position on a certain topic with superficial explanations and statements rather than provide in-depth and substantial criticism, and this is also linked with the formats imposed by the social media.”
Nevertheless, to what extent is social media causing a polarized environment? Naturally, this may vary in different places or situations, according to Zogiani.
He says in Kosovo this has contributed to the creation of a polarized environment “because in absence of one’s own careful thought and analysis of a topic, there is tendency to ‘delegate’ this responsibility to other people, namely politicians or other public figures. […].”
“As a consequence, a form of aggressive competition for disseminating the group’s positions begins and often the other party is not spared from attacks.”, he adds.
He went on by commenting on the speed of reporting and participating in the debates on social networks.
“The format (e.g. the limitations on Twitter), and their somehow commercial nature, make social networks to some extent be part of the problem, and this may be even more accurate for countries with poorer level of education, as is the case with Kosovo.”
Based on his personal experience working as a journalist, Zogiani shares his say on how media and journalism are being reshaped by technological expansion.
“The Internet and technology are making radical changes in the work of the journalists and in the media landscape in general. We witness more and more innovative ideas for structural and business changes in the media, because we live in an environment where technology has enabled rapid development in many aspects.”
However, on a positive note, Zogiani highlights that we must focus on getting the best from the technological expansion and at the same time, make efforts to enhance media education.
Personalizing and radicalizing your opinions
Let me take you back to the wallet example. While we may be fine with Facebook and other social media sites showing more wallets in your news feed, things are different if the same logic applies to news consumption and the shaping of public opinion.
A parallel that must be drawn during this discussion is the correlation between how social media platforms present content to you and how it affects your opinions?
‘Filter bubble’ is a term coined by entrepreneur, activist and author Eli Pariser. He uses this term to illustrate ‘a condition of intellectual isolation that allegedly can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see’. This classification is based on information about a specific user, such as location, past click-behavior and search history.
As Pariser explains “we get trapped in a filter bubble and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview.”
So, practically speaking, social media keeps showing you similar content with what you have liked and interacted before- in this form limiting your possibilities to see and hear different perspectives and voices of the other.
Your query results are personally tailored to your own previous searches and this may be worrisome.
As Eric Schmidt said: “It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them”.
When talking about the danger of social networking and how much it is directing/radicalizing our way of thinking “The Social Dilemma” is now streaming on Netflix. For an hour and half you cannot help it but not blink and surrender to the naked truth of this ‘modern-age horror film documentary’.
Stay tuned… the next article is a review of this documentary.
More articles on the impact of social media on shaping opinion and more: