Over five years ago here on Conscious Bridge, I posed the question: “Twitter and Facebook – Do They Connect Us or Divide Us?” In that article, it was my positive contention that social media sites had the potential to connect us. Here was my thinking:
Yes, you can spend too much time on social marketing sites. Yes, it can preclude you from face-to-face interactions. Yes, it can insulate you to only interacting with like-minded people.
But on the other hand, you are connecting with more and more people. Your interactions begin expanding outward to people all around the planet. The world begins to shrink.
The interactions with new people, even if identified as being similar to you, expand your horizons as they don’t think “exactly” like you. You are introduced to new ideas, new concepts, and new resources that you may never have heard about.
I have also found that Facebook has reconnected me to old friends and allowed us to catch up with each other on our lives. We may have grown in different directions through the years, but we still find a bond that connects us.
Now a recent study reported in Science suggests that I could be right. Researchers Eytan Bakshy, Solomon Messing and Lada Adamic write that “rather than people browsing only ideologically aligned news sources, or opting out of hard news altogether, our work shows that social media exposes individuals to at least some ideologically cross-cutting viewpoints.”
Their data pointed towards the possibility that even among individuals who held strong political partisan positions, many online friendships “cut across ideological affiliations.” Hence, these friendships offered each other an opportunity to check out alternative ways of thinking as they shared online resources.
[Here’s a bit more detail on the study from the website Pacific-Standard.]
Of course, whether we take in and actually consider the alternate viewpoint is up to us. The key is that online social media can to a degree take us out of our own self-imposed echo chambers (Bill Maher calls it “the bubble”).
I have written previously (such as this article from 2013, “Question the Message“) that if we are not careful, we can limit our news sources so that we only hear things that reinforce what we already believe. This can lead to us being uninformed or worse yet, misinformed. Studies cited here reflect that this is true. Although doing so can be extremely self-satisfying and comfortable, such a place is not where we grow as an individual.
If you want to be comfortable yet stagnant in your growth, get all your news from sources that tell you what you want to hear. If you want to be pushed a bit out of your comfort zone and have some personal growth, then vary the sources for your news—-including reading those alternate viewpoints you get on FaceBook and then really thinking about them.
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pss. And, here’s a link to my latest free audio presentation Waking Up and Showing Up!