We all live in our bubbles. Our family bubble, our friends bubble, our work bubble. It is interesting to think how much of our life is organized around preferences. We tend to go to certain places, and we tend to meet and interact people that have the share the same preferences than we do. It is easy to get trapped on your own little bubble and not realize there is a whole world outside of it.
One of the past episodes of Invisibilia was about reality bubbles and it told the story of a young man from California that suddenly became aware of the constraints of his life and built an app to do “bubble-hopping” – and get out of his bubble (you can read/listen to it here). Although I think it is an interesting idea, I believe there are more “conventional” ways to try to break out your bubble.
So when it comes to Twitter, things are not different. Even though *in theory* all tweets are public and easily found in the internet, what you are writing is being read only by your own Twitter bubble. Basically, an echo chamber. When it comes to political views, there are basically two very separate Twitter “wings”. And both blue and red Twitter rarely talk to each other. This was the subject from a recent study published in PNAS and you can read a description of its results on this article.
The graph represents a depiction of messages containing moral and emotional language, and their retweet activity, across all political topics (gun control, same-sex marriage, climate change). Nodes represent a user who sent a message, and edges (lines) represent a user retweeting another user. The two large communities were shaded based on the mean ideology of each respective community (blue represents a liberal mean, red represents a conservative mean).
Brady et. al, 2017. Emotion shapes the diffusion of moralized content in social networks. PNAS 114:7313-7318.
On the paper, the authors state that emotions tend to be highly associated with moral judgments. They propose that moral and political messages with a stronger combination of moral and emotional contents would reach more people than messages with a weaker combination of moral and emotional contents. A phenomenon they called “moral contagion“. What they found in the end was that although tweets containing at least one moral-emotional word were largely retweeted, rarely those tweets made to “the other side” of the political bubble.
After I read this, I went to the list of people I follow on Twitter. It’s not as intuitive as it is on Facebook (where you can easily see how many friend in common you have with your contacts), but yes, most of the accounts I follow on Twitter are followed by a great number of “people you know”. So there I am, living in my giant Twitter liberal bubble. Although I agree that one step towards getting out of your bubble would be unfollow people that everyone else follows, the great improvement would be to follow (and engage) with people “from the other side”.
Problem is I have seen how nasty those political discussions can get on Twitter and Facebook. I am not a confrontational person. I even avoid reading convos from others when they start to fight about certain topics. I am also a very passionate person, so engaging in those types of convos would take an enormous emotional effort from my part. In order to try to be aware of my political bias, I started to include conservative news to my daily routine (yes, I read Fox News now…). I am not entirely sure if this helps anyhow, as I am constantly mesmerized by how obnoxious they are.
What I have been trying to do is to engage to the (very few) conservative people I know. I enjoy to hear their arguments and although our debates can become somewhat heated, the friendship that we have makes things easier, and I am more free to simply say “you don’t wanna go there” or simply walk away from a discussion. Yes, I know you can also create friendships on Twitter, but this is much difficult to happen if you’re not alike the other person to begin with.
Despite the fact I truly believe that communication between political bubbles is necessary if we want to live in a better world, I am not sure if I can do it. A compromise I’ve chosen is to create a (private) Twitter list of conservative accounts and read their tweets without following them. To engage with them is a totally different story, though…
What about you, dear reader, do you live in a bubble? You can determine how thick is your bubble by taking this quiz. In the meantime, let me share this post on my Twitter bubble!