Over the last few years, we have witnessed once reliable political pundits come completely unstuck. The Brexit result in June 2016 was a huge shock to many, as was the underwhelming result of the 2017 snap general election, and no-one predicted that Trump would actually make it to the White House.
So how did these big political results take so many people by surprise? We are surrounded by 24/7 news, both through rolling news channels as well as social media, with the latter providing us with our own avenue to share our opinions and predictions whenever we choose.
But who are we really connecting with on social media? The tendency is to follow people with the same opinions as our own, interested in the same issues and with the same political leaning. In effect, our social media feeds create an ‘echo chamber’ where our views are simply reflected back by the social media landscape we have created.
Our social media habits add to our own ‘filter bubble’, a term coined by positive news website Upworthy.com’s CEO Eli Pariser, who suggested that as we like, click and share news and information, our social media algorithms build up a picture of us and replicate our habits on our newsfeeds. In practice this means that social media users will see stories from news sources they regularly read, product placements from recently viewed brands and potentially, plenty of cat videos.
In the last couple of months, the potential danger of these echo chambers and filter bubbles have been understood by a much wider audience with the outing and subsequent collapse of Cambridge Analytica. While the full impact of their alleged data harvesting and targeted advertising on the Brexit referendum is being explored, it is important that as social media users, we take control of our own social media landscape.
There are a few simple steps that can be taken to break free of social media bubbles. This can include following different media sources and influencers, proactively seeking out different views and opinions and understanding the topics being explored by different political parties and pressure groups.
For any PR campaign, this approach may open opportunities to engage with a wider audience, challenge consumer perceptions and provide much needed transparency to fake news and myths. By breaking free of our echo chambers, we can increase awareness of how key issues are interpreted on both sides of an argument – a valuable tool in shaping and potentially changing, attitudes and actions.