In the wake of the EU Referendum devastation, I have a sinking suspicion that our perception of the world we live in is horribly distorted, fed entirely through our own filters. Social media may be dividing us further, not bringing us together.
For me, and all of my friends and colleagues, the last few days have been filled with grief-stricken horror and upset as we watched a country we didn’t recognise vote to leave an organisation that, while flawed, was perhaps our best hope at standing united against an increasingly fractured and violent world. I could not reconcile the voting percentages I saw unfolding on the referendum coverage, with the society that I inhabit, the people I know, and the opinions I am exposed to.
But of course I couldn’t: what is my Facebook ‘Newsfeed’ if not a selection of comments, opinions and personal connections, entirely curated by me?
I have a racist relative. I un-followed their posts years ago.
My spam inbox invites me to yoga retreats, creative writing events, and house and techno parties.
My Instagram feed shows me people all over the world practising Ashtanga, DJs dropping bombs (of the metaphorical musical kind), and street style fashion photos.
My entire social media window onto a huge and connected ‘global’ society, is really just my own views, interests, and opinions, reflected back at me thousands of times over from like-minded people all over the world. When we are logging on, connecting with the rest of the world, are we? Or are we just satisfying our own perception of what this world looks like to us, hungrily feeding our own very particular version of reality?
Last night I couldn’t sleep, buoyed by the intelligently written, sensitively-put articles and posts from friends and journalists, lamenting the backlash against advice, and experts, the backward anti-intellectual knee-jerk primitive response from the swathes of the disenfranchised and forgotten working classes. The sadness that the very people who have had their voice heard, will now be trampled once again by a different but equally brutal and possibly more chaotic establishment. I watched the signatures of the ‘Another EU Referendum’ petition rise from 1.4million to almost 3million. And then I fell asleep.
But on the other side of the country, millions of people were also facing their own personal mirror of the country, watching things unfolding through their own filters, surely. They were picking up their own right wing newspapers celebrating their unexpected victory, scrolling through their mates’ comments energetically articulating the joy they feel at the blow they’ve dealt on a country that has been squeezing them into oblivion for decades. And frowning with anger at the catastrophic economic hyperbole filling the headlines, yet another example of a government woefully out of touch with their daily concerns; they haven’t had any fucking money for years.
It’s human nature to match yourself with people who you get on with, whose world outlook and views are similar to your own. That’s natural. But I think now we have the ability to see our own views multiplied over and over again, often all over the world, it is a little easier to convince ourselves that we are right, that this is not simply one person’s experience of the world, it is the truth.
And I think this carries the risk that we galvanise our groups against one another, we categorise ourselves, split ourselves into clearly defined camps that, although vast and sprawling, are still really just pockets of differing opinion. Social media has given us the luxury of filtering out the views that make us feel uncomfortable, that don’t chime with our own, and I’m sure that – even without realising it – we are all guilty of doing it to a certain extent.
It is hugely tempting, with (almost) every single person I know, have ever met, or come into contact with, feeling the same as me about the current political climate and situation, to dismiss the opposing view as misguided and tragically incorrect. My own approach is being validated on my Newsfeed every few minutes by people I know, like, and trust.
I don’t know what the answer is. I am trying to come to terms with the difficult thought that a few days ago a measure was taken of public opinion, and I was in the minority. I am trying to remind myself that my window on the world is a window I created and opened myself, and that somehow, I need to find a way to engage with people whose experience of the world is one that I don’t quite understand.