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People who are generally technologically inept would believe that social media and search engines are impartial. They believe that because the World Wide Web is easily accessed by anyone with Wi-Fi, these platforms only expedite the spread of information to the general public. It is a way to unite people with facts instead of restricting certain groups to limited information, preventing them from seeing other perspectives and thus cause the world to be polarise by differencing viewpoints. They give most people equal power to gain knowledge and gather information from multiple sources that used to be inaccessible, geologically and politically. Moreover, where people get their daily doses of information is no longer restricted to traditional media and government-controlled agencies. We now have the access to small and independent journalists and citizens who gather and report news outside of mainstream media institutions thanks to the rise of social media and other similar platforms. This exposes us to a wide range of perspectives, allowing us to gain understanding of others. In this viewpoint, social media and search engines only seeks to unite us through disseminating the same information to the general public.
While I concede that social media and search engines do play a role in expediting the spread of information to those who previously had no access to them, thinking that this would only lead to the unity of mankind is merely a superficial way of looking at the issue. I believe that social media and search engines cause the world to be increasingly polarised by exacerbating confirmation bias through user’s usage of these platforms. Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that causes a person to seek out information to further affirm the information they believe to be true. When subjects were given the Wason test, more than half of them would fall prey to confirmation bias. With the rise of social media and search engines, it is safe to assume that more than half of the users will fall prey to confirmation bias while they use these platforms. Using these platforms, they can follow people with similar beliefs, browse websites that posts information that only serves to reinforce what we know. Paired with the increasing usage of these platforms over the years, this further compounds the problem of confirmation bias. Even if the amount of information we have access to today is paramount compared to the past, if social media and search engine users would only seek out information that they are familiar with, it will only cause an increasing divide between people with various perspectives. This is how despite the potential increase in exposure to various thought provoking information offered by social media and search engines, it would ultimately lead to an increasing polarised world if the potential fails to be fully utilised by users.
Furthermore, personalisation algorithms built into social media sites and search engines will only worsen the problem of confirmation bias. These algorithms are designed to select the most engaging and relevant content to the user. It collects and analyses data on how you react to certain information and based on these data, users will be recommended more articles that aligns with their beliefs. This further limits the exposure to the user and isolates them from diverse perspectives. Slowly, the learned algorithm will be so accurate that there rarely will be any dissenting facts and opinions presented to the user. Limited exposure to opposing viewpoints will prevent people from understanding others in the future, thus creating an increasingly polarised world.
Paradoxically, these platforms that takes pride in their ability to allow the ease of dissemination of information subjects their users to limited information that only reinforces what they know. However, there are many ways to combat the effects of confirmation biases on social media and search engines alike. We can always consciously seek out reputable sources and fact check between these sources to ensure the information that we are getting is accurate and that we are not only getting one side of the story. We can also learn more about confirmation biases and be aware that it exists. Being vigilant would prevent the world from becoming increasingly polarised.
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