The all-encompassing nature of social media makes it nigh-on impossible to entirely remove oneself from its clutches. The unprecedented past few months of lockdowns has caused many of us to rely, almost entirely at points, on social media to keep connected and in communication with friends, family and the wider world.
Throughout the pandemic, I deleted various apps from my phone, forcing a much-needed break from the constant stream of content. I can’t think of many people I know who haven’t struggled with the uncertainty of lockdowns and isolation – at these points, the constant feed from social media can be suffocating.
In the summer of 2020, Ofcom reported that adults in the UK were spending over a quarter of their waking day online; a new high. During the 2017 general election, Twitter could have fooled many into believing that Jeremy Corbyn was on track for a landslide victory. We now know that the prolific tweeting by Corbyn’s predominantly young vocal supporters was not representative of the electorate. Social media did not and does not accurately portray the opinion of an entire population.
It is no secret that algorithms alter our feeds, creating echo chambers which mirror our viewpoints back to us. The enforced isolation reduced our engagement with others and their varied opinions, heightening the influence of social media’s skewed content.
The Plymouth shooter, Jake Davison’s connections to the ‘incel’ movement are considered a possible motivation for his actions. His social media footprint shows posts of misogynistic tone, feelings of isolation and active involvement with online forums used by individuals holding the same anti-women ideology.
These forums are an echo chamber for extreme views. Covid and the lockdowns are not to blame for his actions, and increasing reliance on social media cannot, and will not, be a substitute for in-person communication. Isolation reduced the opportunity for all of us to be exposed to differing opinions, which may challenge and diffuse our existing views.
While increased social media use has allowed us to connect when we have otherwise been forced to distance, our echo chambers have caused levels of engagement with alternate opinions to decrease. Many of our covid adaptations should remain. Even so, we must be wary of the increased potential for echo chambers to amplify our existing perceptions.
Social media sites must take greater responsibility for their algorithms and reduce the intensity of echo chambers, which can funnel users’ perspectives, with potentially dangerous outcomes if they are concentrating narrow or extreme perspectives.