Are we turning one too many blind eyes? – The cost of social media filters

Every day, up to one terabyte of information is uploaded via social networks including Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. Back in the day when we only knew one or two sites and people only posted status updates from home, the stream of information was merely a slow trickle. But with more and more people joining social sites, coupled with the widespread use of mobile Internet and the emergence of numerous apps, the social feed is bursting full of information from different people, each vying for their network’s attention, often with irrelevant posts.

As the social media ecosystem advances and develops and people go crazy with games, retweets, trends and links, logging on to a social site means an unavoidable barrage of irrelevant information – noise that distracts us from the information or connections we really want. However, the move from merely using social sites for maintaining contact with friends to using social media for a purpose to network, access new information or to engage in marketing brings its own pitfalls.

The fact that we can customize our Twitter network, subscribe to certain blog feeds and install alerts to see information we desire from niche topic, industry or company accounts, gives us instant access to knowledge in our own interests and goals, allowing us to filter out noise and gain focus. We subscribe to those similar to us, and those similar to us follow us.

There is an implicit pressure in social media to stick somewhat to an identity or niche, in order to gain a following within said niche and to avoid being classified as noise that others filter out.  For example, if a person you have been following because of their useful tweets about fashion begins tweeting significantly about something you are uninterested in, say knitting, it becomes more likely that you will begin ignoring their updates, and eventually you may click ‘Unfollow’.

The echo chamber in social media. Comic by Hugh MacLeod

The echo chamber

The drive to eliminate noise by others and to be a relevant (non-noise) source in our social media networks may create an online echo chamber where information, ideas and beliefs are amplified by enclosed networks. How many times have we seen the same link shared over and over again on our networks, retweeted from an already highly influential source that you follow as well? When we use social media for a particular purpose other than chatting, it’s easy to get so focused on this purpose that we forget that social media can be a source of ANY information. Within the echo chamber that we create and perpetuate, we may become so focused on receiving the specific news we want that we ignore other information that might potentially interest us or enrich our lives.

Think about watching TV, or reading a daily newspaper. Back in the day (before the Internet and social media spoiled us with the choice of what we were exposed to), we were given a much broader view of the world because of the diversity of articles in a newspaper, one of which might catch our eye despite it not being in our favourite section; or an interesting documentary that happened to be on TV on the first channel we flicked to. Being ‘accidentally’ exposed to information gave us a richer, broader perspective. With the filters we have in place to block out what we call ‘noise’, are we blocking out opportunities?

We avoid narrowing our views and experiences in real life by going to new places and trying new things. Why don’t we do this more in the online realm? Why not take a little risk and be less selective in our filters? Follow people who are interesting regardless of their influence or authority in a topic?  Set aside time to find some refreshing blogs or sites. Be a bit more of who we really are, instead of enclosing ourselves within a niche?

What do you think about the effects of using filters on our personal and online lives?

copyright FRANk Media 2018