I have 1,485 Facebook friends, from all over the world. And I don’t think any of them have a view I disagree with. I don’t see any racist posts, insulting comments or posts in support of Trump, from my Facebook friends. I see a lot of horrible things, because my friends are keen to raise awareness on the issues around the world, but this only gets me more motivated to help and make a difference.
That’s a good thing, I hear you think. You, yes, probably a person with the same values as I have. Because that’s why you’re reading this. You have maybe found this article because you are one of my 1,485 Facebook friends, or you know someone who is, or just because you stumbled upon it on Google. But there is a big problem in this. Let me explain.
In the online world of today, information is everywhere. If I put something online, it is no longer mine. It stretches miles, countries and continents and can end up anywhere. Globalization has made borders fluid, and it has made it easier for people and information to flow. We now know everything. But, do we? While we maybe have a lot more information at hand, I think we might actually know a lot less.
Naturally, we make friends based on our morals and values. But more and more than ever before, our online lives are ruled by a technical force. Our online ‘friends’ on Facebook, our followers on Twitter and our likers on Instagram tend to be similar, sharing the same content. But more than that, what we tend to ‘like’, or search for, is saved by an algorithm that shows the same type of content the next time you are online. An algorithm that controls what we see and what we don’t. Besides that, we tend to watch TV channels that share our values, or at least where we hear what we want to hear, only confirming what we already believe is right. We have a lot of information at hand, but what we chose to see and hear is limited. We fall into the trap that we only see what proves our point. The system will please the thoughts we have, and continue to show this to us. This way, it will be very easy to not be critical towards what you see, and a confrontation of opinions remains avoided. You are always right. In your own, safe, online universe, you will always be right.
In some ways, this is not necessarily very different from how it used to be. My parents used to live in a time of pillarization in the Netherlands (‘verzuiling’ as we called it). You were either catholic, protestant, liberal or socialist, and that was your circle. Your school, tv channels, radio, newspaper, and of course church were all decided by it. In fact a same sort of ‘algorithm’, where the people within your circle confirmed your thoughts, and again, you were always right.
Taking the Netherlands as an example where I believe the past and present were ruled by a sort of ‘algorithm’, I hereby acknowledge that all countries have a different history, and a different present. But whereas the history might differ greatly, because of globalization I do believe the present is ruled more and more by the same algorithm all around the world.
Looking at the Netherlands, one of the reasons it is different now than in the past, is because back then, there was only 1 or 2 tv channel(s) that all pillars had to share, so people tended to also have a look at the next program where the different pillar showcased their opinions. Nowadays, more and more happens within the same circle. There is a tendency of living in parallel online universes. I see my Facebook as an example. Everybody, in essence, has the same values, as far as I can tell. I am not saying we are not seeing the counter parties opinions, but we are barely actually confronted with it. They are living in another parallel online universe, one that mine barely touches.
Another reason the situation is different now is because of the forms of activism. I remember talking to my dad about all the demonstrations he has been to. Dozens. Everybody was there. Those were the demonstrations, the ones that fought for gender equality, against the Vietnam War, for rights for homosexuals, the kind of demonstrations you barely really see anymore.
People also used to name themselves depending on what their opinions are. My dad used to be a ‘Trotskyist‘. You tied how you called yourself depending on what value system you supported. We don’t really do that anymore.
We are passively politically active. I am a victim of this myself. It’s not necessarily a new tendency. It used to be called ‘salonsocialists‘ in the Netherlands. What is new about it is how easy it is to do nowadays, and how everybody does it in their own online universe. We strengthen what we believe in by shouting towards each other the thing that we both already believe in.
A few days ago, it was International Day of the Girl. A big portion of my Facebook friends changed their profile picture to show support, as suggested by Facebook. Great! It shows international support towards a global issue on that day. It is absolutely good, but it is limited. It is a very inactive and passive form of activism, which is also mostly seen by those who already support the same cause. How many people outside of your circle, which is the main goal of a campaign like this, do you think will have seen it? In my opinion, to make a real change, we need to take it offline.
We need to find confrontation. We need to counter the other opinions. We need to shake things up before we can make things better. We need to organize, and then confront. We need to go out on the streets and fight for what we believe in. If we want to counter this ages ‘populism’ and ‘fear’ we need to seek confrontation, and not just show what is right to those who already think we are right.
My 1,485 Facebook friends; I love you all, because you believe in what I believe in, quite often. You make me want to be active, make a difference. But I have realised I might suffer from a tunnel vision, because I only see what confirms what I believe in. Just looking inside my circle for information will only prove I am right, and things like Brexit may have shown me that I, or we, are not always right. I have often blamed ‘the other side’ of the same, the Trump voters and/or racists. And it is the same, but that’s just the thing. It’s the same. We all shout and scream, but we shout and scream to the ones who are already listening. We have to be different and fight it. We have to go offline. We have to shout outside of our circles. Outside of our comfort zone, where we are not always right.