11 January 2019
For around two and a half years, Britain has been divided.
Looking back at recent weeks, that divide seems to be growing. We’ve seen news outlets pull journalists from the College Green outside Westminster and MPs turning to the police to help as protesters becoming increasingly aggressive outside the ongoing Commons debate. Clashes between both sides are growing increasingly heated as public frustration boils over.
Whilst we wait for answers from the House as to what Brexit actually looks like, what can we do to bridge the divide? One of the greatest challenges in doing this is that we’re able to curate our news, our communication and experience of the world more than ever before. This makes us more vulnerable than ever to fake news and to becoming further entrenched in existing beliefs.
Many people’s news is now fed to them by algorithms. These algorithms are designed to feed us what we’re interested in, to keep us scrolling.
Our own spheres
We’re seeing this play out every single day. The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, references it in a recent interview he did with David Letterman.
He describes how we now live in our own spheres. An experiment, Obama says, highlighted this. When three people were asked to search the same term on Google, they each received different results relative to their personal political agendas. We’re no longer receiving a common, level playing field of information.
Whilst this is a huge issue in America, where the divide between Trump supporters and opponents is growing greater day by day, it’s also relevant across the pond here in the UK. As we edge ever closer to the big Brexit deadline in March and the debate in Westminster becomes increasingly sour, the public divide shows no sign of closing soon.
I read an interesting article from author Matt Haig for The Guardian recently. He speaks of internet activist and former Google employee Wael Ghonim. He was one of the initiators of the Arab spring and advocate of the ‘internet-inspired revolution’. Ghonim now sees social media as a negative force. Haig explains that Ghonim now believes, it’s gone from being a place for “crowdsourcing and sharing”, to “a fractious battleground full of ‘echo chambers’ and ‘hate speech’”. Haig describes how Ghonim saw social media polarising people into angry opposing camps. This then left “centrists such as himself stuck in the middle, powerless”.
Whilst social media and the internet give us more information than ever, we’re actually seeing the opposite. There’s perhaps too much out there. In the age of personalisation the big tech companies are curating the content we want to see to encourage us to spend more time on their sites. However, this is limiting exposure to other points of view, and potentially to the facts.
When you really think about it, there’s no wonder fake news spreads so rapidly. People are literally receiving news within their own bubbles, reinforcing what they already thought.
So what’s the answer? Is it another job for the big tech companies or can we do something about it ourselves?
For me, it’s about looking to a range of news sources and not relying solely on social media to see what’s happening in the world around me. Everyone has their biases, unconscious or otherwise, so the only way to get a balanced view of the world’s news is to look across multiple sources.
Solving the divide
As Brexit becomes a stark reality, it’s worth remembering to look at what the other point of view is. If you’re a Remainer, what are the Leavers saying? And vice versa. Be more open to the information that you take in, rather than relying on what is handed to you. Whilst this certainly won’t solve the issue of the divide, it may make you more receptive to bridging it.
What do you think? Are we living in silos? How do you consume a plethora of news and opinions?