Blog Post

How Filter Bubbles and Fake News Affect Voting in America

 

Voting and Democracy

The United States has always been a country built on the idea of democracy and the involvement of the common citizen when it comes to government. Every election, political parties emphasize the importance of voting and the impact that an individual vote has on the final results. Voting has long been a part of the process as a  fair and equal way to elect a government and its leaders. In the United States, voting is not only a right, but a responsibility. According to the American Bar Association “Voting is a citizen’s civic responsibility and is also your opportunity to make your voice heard. It is every Americans’ chance to shape the type of government they want.”(Klein 6) The idea of voting and the results that come from voting require that voters are well informed and form educated opinions on the issues at hand. This means that if there was some way to completely effect the information that people were exposed to, there would be changes in the results of elections. This is where social media enters the picture. In modern culture, social media is one of the most popular and influential forms of information sharing. According to the Pew Research center, 88% of 18-29 year-olds use any form of social media, 78% of 30-49 year-olds, 64% of 50-64 year-olds also use some form of social media (Smith & Anderson 8). With the majority of the American voting population utilizing social media, it is clear that social media has an influence on the polls and elections. While social media is not necessarily a bad thing, the internet and social media uses filter bubbles and echo chambers to continue showing people what they want to see and blocking what they don’t want to see. Additionally, social media gives a medium for false/ fake stories and opinions without an actual way to check whether or not the stories have any factual background. This combination of close-minded voters and false information means that voters come out uneducated and biased.

Filter Bubbles and The Impact of Echo Chambers

With social media outlets such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, it is easy to surround oneself with only the people, things and ideas that one associates themselves with. If someone is interested in exercise and dieting, their explore pages would contain health and body pages and not advertisements for fast food or junk food. In terms of political parties and voting, this means that a Democrat will mostly be exposed to only ideas held by the Democratic party and not be exposed to Republican ideas or representatives and vice versa. According to Washington Post, the idea of a filter bubble is explained as,“ a combination of algorithms and personal choices allow us to focus on content that confirms our beliefs. On social media we huddle with those most like us, using our Twitter and Facebook feeds to preach to that confirms our beliefs” (Parker 3). Besides simply being exposed to only what we want to see, people also have the tendency to believe and repost things that they see on social media, especially if they agree with the ideas in the post. According to the Huffington Post, “In the age of cable channels, talk radio, the Internet, and social media, people have a tendency to accept at face value anything they hear as soon as they hear it, especially if it agrees with their current ideas, and to pass it along without testing its veracity. Such voters make snap judgments, which easily take on the character of permanent ones.” (Newell 7)

 

Now, many would ask what is wrong with agreeing with a certain political party and reposting what one believes in. The problem is, many people are not completely sure what the opposite party believes in nor are they familiar with representatives of the opposite party. When people are constantly put in a bubble, they begin to be closed minded and reject anything that they do not believe in. In modern culture, the presence of social media and a filter bubble provides the perfect atmosphere for extremists to grow and flourish in each other’s company. This can be summarized in a quote from #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, “Unplanned, unanticipated encounters are central to democracy itself. Such encounters often involve topics and points of view that people have not sought out and perhaps find quite irritating-but that might nevertheless change their lives in fundamental ways. They are important to ensure against fragmentation, polarization and extremism, which are predicable outcomes of any situation in which like-minded people speak only with themselves.” (Sunstein 6)  With a medium such as social media, it is difficult to venture outside of one’s beliefs, and the person will end up completely not knowing or misunderstanding the ideas and policies of the opposite party. In the end, voters tend to believe that they disagree with everything the opposite political party says simply because they have never been exposed to ideas or opinions outside of their preexisting biases and beliefs. If social media exposed individuals to ideas and opinions from all different parties, the person would be allowed to have more informed opinions on what they agree with and what they don’t agree with. In a world where the opposite party is usually seen as the enemy, it would be much more effective if people recognized the pros and cons in all political sides before voting for something that may completely change the laws and regulations in the United States.

Fake News and the Spread of False Information

Besides being stuck in a bubble of ideas and opinions, social media offers the perfect opportunity for fake news or inaccurate information to be spread everywhere in a matter of seconds. The classic game of telephone shows how one story can quickly change and become another and another until the only news being spread is untrue. Remember that the same bait and switch had been used by numerous other sites, all with the same several year-old story. With years of old stories to recycle in this way, there’s little to stop the further spread of this disinformation, except the critical minds of readers like you.”(Bayer 8) The problem is that people are not interested in the long, extensive details of events and want to read something that catches their eye or is simple enough to understand. Journalists, newspapers, etc. understand that people want short, eye catching stories with some calling fake news “only part of a larger problem of sensationalistic headlines, intrusive reporting, and journalism that placed sales over accuracy”(Samuel 6).

The issue of fake news is even more important in political settings where political candidates often use stories about the opponent’s past to discredit the person’s character and integrity. According to Humprecht, political actors are actually one of the more prominent sources of fake news:“in polarized, low-trust environments political actors more frequently act as sources of online disinformation. In these countries, political actors seem to fuel polarized debates by attacking political enemies. Accordingly, members of the government are frequently targeted by online disinformation.” (Humprecht 12) With potential leaders also spreading false information, it is no surprise that Americans readily read, spread and believe the stories they see online.

While many know that fake news tends to overdramatize or even completely change the details around certain events, people or opinions, many are aware of when they are exposed to fake news. If a reader is not able to recognize the difference between real news and fake news, this can lead to making bad political decisions based on untrue facts. The person would essentially be discrediting a person or event without ever knowing the true story. Regardless of political party, fake news is dangerous and should be better regulated when it can completely ruin the representation of a political party.

What Now?

Influencing voting and information can completely change the goals and beliefs of a country by creating biased and misinformed voters that eventually vote for laws and regulations that they do not understand completely. With the current problems associated with hate groups and extremists, these problems show how dangerous it is to have filter bubbles and echo chambers because it can affect what people vote for and eventually what a country enforces. If we continue to have filter bubbles and echo chambers, the only people that you will meet on social media will be people who have similar ideas; therefore there is no chance for information sharing between opposing parties. This can be damaging because without understanding the opposing party’s agreement it is difficult or impossible to have an informed opinion on important issues. There is nothing wrong with supporting and believing in certain ideologies and political stances but it is always important to understand the ideas and ideologies of opposing parties. In fact, it is often noted that the best way to have a good, educated opinion is to take someone else’s ideas into consideration first. Another problem that the United States faces is the presence of fake news being consistently passed around among voters. With voters making decisions based on facts that are untrue or not completely true, the people that are in control and the laws that they pass become invalid and based upon lies. With more informed and unbiased voters, the United States has the opportunity to pass important laws and regulations that benefit all Americans.

Sources:

Bayer, B. (2016, December 05). Developing a Critical Nose for News. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@benbayer_62236/the-sniff-test-cb5727f319a6

Humprecht, E. (2018). Where ‘fake news’ flourishes: A comparison across four Western democracies. Information, Communication & Society,1-16. doi:10.1080/1369118x.2018.1474241

Klein, L. A. (2018, October 9). Voting: A Privilege, a Duty, and a Path to a Stronger Democracy. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/publications/tyl/topics...

Newell, T. (2017, September 27). What Is A Voter's Responsibility? Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/terry-newell/what-is-a-voters-responsi_b_...

Parker, E. (2017, May 22). In praise of echo chambers. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/05/22/in-praise-of-echo-chambers/

Samuel, A. (2016, November 26). To Fix Fake News, Look To Yellow Journalism | JSTOR Daily. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://daily.jstor.org/to-fix-fake-news-look-to-yellow-journalism/

Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2018, September 19). Social Media Use 2018: Demographics and Statistics. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/03/01/social-media-use-in-2018/

Sunstein, C. R. (2018). #Republic: Divided democracy in the age of social media. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

 

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