Check Your Facebook Bubble Bias

I’m sure you, too, have read plenty of blog posts and newspaper articles concerning the trends and traits of Our Generation (Millenials, aged teen to thirtysomething, and possibly older and younger folks too).  A.k.a. The Facebook Generation, The Smartphones-At-Dinner Generation, The Irony Generation, The No-Dating-Just-Hookups Generation.

I just want to say one thing: these stereotypes don’t apply to very many people.

Lots of folks in our generational cohort do not use Facebook regularly; they keep their smartphones separate from social situations (or don’t have one at all – myself, for instance); they do not saute their lives in ironic pursuits.  Lots of our fellow travelers are even consistently monogamous, and go on real dates, and court each other, and not necessarily in an old-fashioned sexist 1950s way.

It is very, very easy for people to fall prey to the false-consensus effect in the Facebook bubble.  It seems paradoxical, because we seem to have access to the viewpoints of, and news about, so many different people.  In reality, however, many of the mythical People Who Live Differently Than We Do are invisible to us precisely because they are, you know, not on Facebook (all the time).  And many of those who are, we simply ignore.

The Facebook-Twitter-smartphone-bubble is a machine designed to deliver unto you opinions, interests and recommendations that you are already familiar with and favor.  It is designed to make it extraordinarily easy to spend hours scrolling through updates from people you already know and agree with, while also being able to simply privacy-preference into oblivion anyone you don’t fit with.  It makes it very easy to say, with a certainty, “Everyone is doing this,” or “No one does that nowadays.”  It’s just the way our brains are wired: the more we see of any particular opinion, the more we assume it is pervasive.

So we spend hours a day rifling through the assorted trivial opinions of people living in the same social circle, career, class, and worldview as we do, and even if we do come across someone who is living differently, that little bit of contradictory data is swallowed by the whales of information our friends and colleagues dump at us nonstop.

Thus: If you encounter 10,000 instances of people tweeting from a restaurant table in a year, and 9 out of every 10 dinners you go to feature someone on their phone, you might easily say something incorrect like, “No one interacts anymore,” blissfully unaware of 10,000,000 instances of people eating dinner completely phone-free that occurred today.

Thus: If not a single person on your social media in the past year, talking candidly and offhandedly about their music preferences, expressed genuine interest in a straightforward rock band, but there have been hundreds of appreciative references to Mumford and Sons or Macklemore, it’s easy to say something stupid like “mainstream rock is dead” even though Coldplay and Nickelback scored nearly a quarter of a billion concert attendees between them in 2012.

“Who are those people?” you ask.  They are non-people to you.  They don’t count in your brain’s tabulation of What People Actually Do, Believe and Are.

What was the last time you accidentally stumbled upon a hitherto-unknown blog nation of, say, mothers sharing mothering tips, or right-wing survivalists sharing survivalist tips, or poor people sharing being-poor tips?  (Disclaimer: Some of these blog nations may not exist.  I mean, how many of the 50 million people in the  U.S. who live below the poverty line do you know and have blogs?)  Did you explore their world to a depth that you explore your friends’ relationships, or did you blink in confusion at this strange other world and then click back to your YouTube channel of choice?

Don’t let the wildly easy access you have to your friends and similar peoples make you think that your shared experience is anything remotely universal, or even generational.

Check your Facebook Bubble Bias.

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3 comments

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    Facebook bubble bias?

    1. Facebook bubble bias! Facebook bubble bias… Facebook bubble bias; Facebook bubble bias, Facebook bubble bias.

      1. Anonymous · · Reply

        That’s not what I meant! The reason that I put “Facebook bubble bias” in a questioning format is because you confused me with it.

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