The Boston suburb where I grew up is super white, super wealthy, and super Democratic. There was never much political discussion among my friends because of an unspoken, assumed understanding that we all had the same beliefs anyway: liberal. Blue. Left-leaning. This is Massachusetts; how could you be anything but? That population is the majority of my network: well-educated young people with a liberal worldview.
When I started college at the University of Pittsburgh, that network only grew. Though Pennsylvania is a swing state, Allegheny County usually votes democratically in presidential elections. Pitt’s campus itself is especially politically charged. We had multiple campus visits from candidates, and on an almost daily basis my route to class passed a student protest or demonstration, all of which were blatantly liberal. It seemed that during such a tumultuous election year, politics were on everyone’s minds. The easiest and most popular place to have political discussions was online over social media—especially Facebook.
It was impossible to log on without seeing some kind of political post—an article, or a cartoon, or a video. And because my network is so liberal, simply due to the nature of the two cities that I call home, the posted content was, too. Anyone who did post something that was pro-Trump was consequently chewed to pieces by democratic commenters, whose defense of their views only further affirmed my own: that everyone hates Trump, and no one would vote for him. My newsfeed was, and probably still is, painted a single color: blue.
Of course I didn’t realize this at the time. I existed, blissfully ignorant, in a bubble that was blown the day I was born, and only expanded during my upbringing. In that bubble, everyone was exactly like me. They all had the same opinions about the same topics. Sure, there were other opinions out there, but those were bad, scary, and wrong. On November 8th 2016, that bubble popped.
It’s an understatement to say that I was shocked by the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it did not cross my mind, not even for one second in a hypothetical way, that Trump could actually win the thing. This was a conclusion that I came to based on my own political opinions, in addition to a slightly stupid faith that the country would do “the right thing.” This conclusion was further reinforced by everything that I was reading on my social media feeds. The posts from my friends gave me the impression that my opinion aligned with the majority of the country, when in reality, it was only the opinion of the majority of my friends.
And so I, like many Americans, got screwed by my “filter bubble.” My experience with the 2016 Election is a classic example of the alarming way that social media shapes our worldview. When someone posted an article that went against my personal opinions, I did the most dangerous thing I could do: I pressed the “unfollow” button. What’s scarier than the bubble’s existence is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any way I can fix it. Skewed worldview aside, Facebook is an incredibly convenient and effective way to get information that pertains to me. Even if I friended a million Republicans and their posts filled my feed, I wouldn’t click on them and my opinions wouldn’t change. But still, I would have an awareness that other opinions do exist, whether I choose to hear them or not—which, if the 2016 Election taught me anything, is half the battle.