social media, community and tribalism

A decade ago, when Biz Stone created Twitter, he assumed that the technology would bring people together. FT columnist Gillian Tett points out that the reverse has happened: “Tweets from Trump, along with those of his opponents, have caused people to fly apart, not flock together.”

So, how might we address this problem, which I agree is important? Ms Tett offers the following suggestion.

If you’re on Twitter, take a hard look at who you have chosen to follow; the likelihood is that they all hail from a similar social or intellectual tribe as you. If so, try copying a step that [Dick] Costolo used when he was running Twitter: replace half of those you follow with others who espouse a radically different view. If you believe in immigration and globalisation, for example, follow @BreitbartNews or @AnnCoulter or even @realDonaldTrump; if you love the US president, subscribe to @ACLU, and so on. Either way, switch it round.

Of course, this won’t in itself heal divisions. But it might help promote a healthier conversation. And the beauty of social media is that it can enable us to explore other points of view, with an ease that our geographically far-flung ancestors could never have dreamed of. Technology has fragmented us; but it still has the ability to create new connections — as Stone hoped. Or it does if we use our brains when we switch on our phones. And that applies to liberals as much as to anyone else.

Gillian Tett, “How Twitter went tribal“, Financial Times Magazine, 4 February 2017 (gated paywall).

This is a excellent idea. We should pay more attention to views that differ from our own. And this applies to all media: blogs, podcasts, radio, TV and newspapers as well as Twitter. I confess that I rarely read views that differ radically from those expressed, for example, in the Financial Times. From this time forward I will seek more forcefully to read views that differ from my own, beginning perhaps with Breitbart News. I will not follow Tweets, though, as they are much too short for my taste.

I will post excerpts from anything interesting that I read, with a link to the full article. If you agree or disagree strongly with a post, feel free to write a short comment explaining why you like or dislike it. Hopefully this will trigger a useful, civil discussion.

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