essay 1: filtered reality

Filtered Reality – The Negative Effects of Social Media Use on Democracy

With the rise of personalized algorithms creating a unique online experience, it is generating a mass problem for the digital natives as they are no longer exposed to information that goes against their own beliefs. The bubble of isolation prevents the user from gaining a multiperspective of the world to be a more diverse person. Their lack of exposure to differing opinions will cause them to become more insecure about varying opinions which could allow the media to force their views into consumers. Through the use of filter bubbles, the internet will be able to influence users’ to believe following the trend is the only way to fit into the world. This paper will talk about the issues filter bubbles create as people are unsure of their true self, personal freedom, and become information biased while they are logged onto the digital world. The exploration of the effects of mass media culture on social media users is a key study that will help society better understand how echo chambers filter one’s mind. 

Social media platforms have turned into a guide for digital natives on how to make an identity for themselves. Users are currently turning to subcultures that exist in cyberspace to help them figure out how they should act, how they should dress, and what they should like. With the continued use of social media, dissociative anonymity will become a prominent issue plaguing digital natives. As mentioned in The Online Disinhibition Effect, the online world allows one to “shift to an ‘online’ personality constellation that may be dissociated” (Suler, 2004). With the help of algorithms, people are often fed the same type of content based on what they usually click. Filter bubbles often unknowingly push users into online niche groups that fit their search history. This may seem harmless as people are enabled to find a group where they fit in; however, some bubbles encourage “one to assume an imaginary persona” (Suler, 2002). Those who find themselves in groups that promote the fantasy world cause users to dissociate from their real world personality and lose the meaning of ‘true self’. In studies mentioned by Hwang et al, these users’ will likely experience dissonance and “tend to avoid exposure to the dissonance-increasing exposure” (2006, pg. 465). For digital natives, dissonance is becoming an increasing problem as filter bubbles and algorithms allow users to stay in their own echo chamber. As these online niche markets and groups continue, many will suffer from dissociative anonymity and dissonance due lack of exposure to the diversity of the world caused by filtering.

Internet users are at risk of being brainwashed once they enter the cyberworld that tracks what they click on, then filters specific content into their browsing experience. Filter bubbles thrive based on a mixture of human ignorance and algorithms which “undermines the choices they make as citizens and voters” (Dutton, 2019, pg. 36). As these algorithms continue to allow social media platforms to steal their users personal freedom, the future generation will regress to a less democratic society. Being exposed to only one type of perspective can cause the youth generation to become sensitive to differing opinions, making them more explosive to beliefs that are not theirs. They are causing voters to be influenced by politicians that have the most media presence or cause the most scandal, as they are the ones that pop up the most on users’ news feeds. For instance, filter bubbles worked in favour of President Donald Trump’s election campaign as he is widely hated for his controversial political views and offensive comments. Although people dislike him, they still click on articles about him that cause algorithms to filter in more articles about Trump to the user, whether they like or dislike him. This especially affects the younger voters as they turn to social media platforms, such as Facebook being 36% of users main news source (Shearer & Mitchell, 2021) for their updates on what is going on in the political world. Filter bubbles will continue to be successful in brainwashing the minds of digital users if they keep on browsing the web without knowing the consequences.

The digital market is now causing an epidemic of information bias as these intellectual isolation bubbles are blocking off the users’ from a variety of opinions and access to differing knowledge. Modern day pop culture celebrities use their social status and media presence to influence their followers to believe in their views, using their control over their fans to capitalise on their fame. The rise of Instagram influencers being paid to promote a brand has created a culture that shops based on how popular the brand is, rather than the quality of the product that is being produced. For instance, Nike “succeeded in saturating the sportswear market and being the label that children wish to be seen in” (Boden, 2006, pg. 295). The study conducted in the article found that the company was able to use their eye catching and diverse advertisement to capture the minds of the entire youth market whether or not one wears athletic wear. This is a highly effective method of advertising to the digital natives as they no longer watch commercials on television, nor do they care about a product if their idol is not wearing it. The shift in marketing is due to filter bubbles as they have caused the youth market to become biased to how they think and how they process information. These information filters are the driving cause for isolated social media users to only view data that will help a big brand sell their product. The digital age is taught by filter bubbles to only what is seen on their explore page, limiting one’s diversity. As time goes on, the digital footprints that users leave on the internet without knowing will continue to allow algorithms to stalk the world’s online presence.

Without action against filter bubbles and echo chambers, the future generation of adults will change the world into an easily brainwashed, insecure, and biased society through the use of the internet. Since social media isolation bubbles highly target their youth users, they will become the precedent for information sensitive generations growing up in the digital world. The creation of the cyberworld has provided many benefits; however, the rapid advancements has caused many new issues that were never a problem in the past, and will continue to pose issues on the future societies democratic views.

References

Boden, Sharon. (2006). Dedicated followers of fashion? The influence of pop culture on children’s social identities. Media, Culture & Society. 28(2), 289-298. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1177/0163443706061690

Dutton, William; Fernandez, Laleah. (2019). How Susceptible ARe Internet Users?. Intermedia. 46(4), 36-40.  https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=135118603&site=ehost-live.

Hwang, H., Schmierbach, M., Paek, H.-J., de Zuniga, H. G., & Shah, D. (2006). Media Dissociation, Internet Use, and Antiwar Political Participation: A Case Study of Political Dissent and Action Against the War in Iraq. Mass Communication & Society, 9(4), 461–483. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1207/s15327825mcs0904_5

Shearer, E. & Mitchell, A. (2021, January 12). News Use Across Social Media Platforms in 2020. Retrieved from https://www.journalism.org/2021/01/12/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-in-2020/

Suler, J. (2002). Identity Management in Cyberspace. Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 4, 455-460. http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/identitymanage.html 

Suler, J. (2004). “The Online Disinhibition Effect.” Cyberpsychology & behaviour, 7(3), 321-326. Retrieved from http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html

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