Beatrice Murray-Nag | Contributing Writer | Thursday, 7 January 2016

Science Says Our Facebook Feeds Are Making Us More Narrow Minded

Science Says Our Facebook Feeds Are Making Us More Narrow Minded

The Debrief: Swapping newspaper for News feed has been declared one of the biggest threats to our society. Oh.

No matter whether you’re an article sharer, a petition signer or a ranting-status kinda gal, we’re all guilty of openly sharing our opinions on social media. Thanks to sites like Facebook, everyone is a journalist these days and when a piece of news particularly resonates with us, we head straight for the status update box faster than you can say You Ain’t No Muslim Bruv.

The issue with this (aside from that one friend who loves to post a long-winded preach about humanity every single effing day) is that we tend to congregate in groups of similar interests on Facebook and most of our friend list are more likely to share our views than question them.

In a recent study, researchers have dubbed our online circles as ‘echo chambers’ meaning that any bias held in the articles and theories we share is likely to be repeated instead of being challenged. 

Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America explains that once a piece of information is accepted as ‘fact’ by social media users, it spreads rapidly within said communities of like-minded people.

Imagine sharing an article about how hard-core veganism can stop global warming among your circle of uber-hipster Shoredich mates. Even if the facts have no scientific basis, rumours spread when the piece gets shared and before you know it half the world is happily tucking into their humous sarnies all while the latest scientific research is proving eating meat to be more environmentally friendly. 

The study analysed data from Facebook about the topics we discussed most in 2010 and 2014 and found that since we tend to congregate in homogenous congregations on social media, sharing articles can result in the reinforcement of false news stories and manipulated facts.

Think about how quickly those pictures and statuses telling us that Mark Zuckerberg is going to delete our profiles unless we share this status go viral. OK, the embarrassment of temporarily looking like a mug wears off in a few minutes, but the whole palaver illustrates just how quickly false stories can spread.

There’s even a website, Urban Legends, dedicated to debunking myths that spread online. Such stories may be trivial, but while their falsity seems painstakingly obvious, they illustrate just how bias or unproven information can be shared all the more easily within an online community.

Researchers were able to single out specific stories that were the result of this fact manipulation on social media. Ever wondered where on earth the rumour that vaccines caused autism stemmed from? Facebook = guilty. And all those claims that Global Warming didn’t exist? Facebook again.

In fact, we actually prefer to share strongly opinionated articles on social media to accentuate the image of ourselves that we like to portray to others with our online profiles, meaning these biased stories gain more popularity than standard news formats. Whether you’re the die-hard Corbynite or the animal rights activist, we’ve all got a part to play in the spreading of false facts.

The problem is so serious that it has been dubbed by the World Economic Forum as one of the main threats to our society. With nearly 1.6 million users logging into Facebook every month, the organisation says that ‘massive digital misinformation’ is becoming so pervasive in our society that the spread of falsities is actually becoming pretty dangerous. 

So, not only is scrolling through our news feed distracting us when we could be doing something actually educational, and our mobile phone signal frazzling our brain cells, but it now turns out that the site is responsible for filling our minds with a whole load of bullshit as well. Time to ditch Facebook for good? If only it wasn’t so addictive... 

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Follow Beatrice on Twitter @beatricemn_

 

Tags: Facebook et al