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Are you tired of the bibble?

There seems to be an awful lot of it these days. If it’s not a self-congratulatory status, it’s a witty caption. If it’s not a photo, it’s a live stream or a real-time commentary on a meal or a show. There are smiles, so many smiles, and peace symbols – why didn’t they die out in the 60’s? Birthday reminders are a particular stress. How are there so many birthdays in the world? Are we expected to celebrate them all? The entirety of current human existence and experience is pushed into our faces 24/7.

Yada yada yada, yeah, whatever. We all know that the information mill we spend over 20 hours a week plugged into ain’t exactly good for our brains. For all its many benefits and the brief, fleeting joy we feel when we see a VSCO’d landscape on Instagram, or rack up the retweets on our latest 140 characters of micro-wisdom; social media is not doing our mental health any favours.

About six months ago, I realised that I was 1000% done with the constant tumbling bore of updates flooding into my brain and downloaded a Facebook News Feed Eradicator. Now, instead of seeing life updates from friends and family, I see a blank white space. If I’m brutally honest, I have pretty much zero interest in anything that anyone posts online (apart from Instagram <3), but that’s not the main reason why I replaced the entirety of Facebook with a single inspirational quote from Yoda.

I did it because the endless stream of current affairs was driving me crazy. For every decent article that popped up on my feed, there were 10 badly written listicles, outrage-stirrers, overblown opinion pieces dressed up as straight reporting and some total fabrications. The same topics were circulating again and again, the same viewpoints regurgitated by an algorithm that thought it knew what I wanted to see. I began to feel as though I wasn’t getting the full picture and that Facebook was at least partially to blame.

It’s fair to say that we are in a unique and strange period of political world history in regards to the dissemination of information. There’s more information available to us than ever, but with this new freedom, distortion and falsehood have been given the conditions to thrive – and particularly on social media. In order to be as well-informed as possible, should we be tuning in or tuning out?

Author and Guardian commentator, Ruth Whippman, claims (in an uncharacteristically incoherent article) that taking a step back from social media and the digital world is a really irresponsible move:

“I regularly reach the end of the day sick with the stale self-loathing of a person who has read the whole internet. I check Twitter in the bathroom, in bed, during dinner,” she says. “…It’s driving me crazy…[but] the rancid sense of rising terror that we often feel in response to the current news cycle is a crucial early-warning system that things are indeed not right. Rather than trying to ignore and appease those feelings of anxiety by disengaging, we should be listening to what they are telling us.”

I get what Whippman is trying to say – that now is not the right time to disengage from politics and the world around us – but she seems to be mixing up two strands of an argument that, although connected, are not the same. Staying on top of current events doesn’t necessarily entail “reading the whole internet” and checking up on your various feeds every other minute.

Of course we shouldn’t be distancing ourselves completely – in this confusing era of alternative facts, it’s vitally important for us to continue to stay informed, engaged and active. But is being constantly plugged into a pot-luck feed of fact and fiction the way to do it?

I don’t think so. A summer 2016 study showed that 62% of Americans get their news from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While 51% of Brits with an internet connection get their news from some kind of social media platform. News sharing is big business and an easy way to stay up to date with our favourite media sources, but it’s a process that is flawed in a couple of insidious ways.

First, fake news. Anyone who hasn’t heard even a snippet about this really must be disconnected – kudos, Luddite. Throughout 2015 and 2016, as the build-up to Brexit and Trump’s astonishing victory mounted and climaxed, post-truth politics took hold and the number of websites pumping out heavily biased or totally fictitious “news reports” mushroomed. This “fake news” is, to untrained eyes, often virtually indistinguishable from the output of reputable news sources. Lies now look legit.

Obviously, all media reports with some kind of bias – journalistic objectivity is pretty much impossible. But there’s a world of difference between facts as reported through biased eyes and “news” that is totally made up altogether. A lot of the latter is written by far-right fanatics who are determined to push their agenda onto a population who are hungry for an alternative, and who won’t let facts get in the way of a convincing yarn.

Some articles are run of the mill news stories from across the world that have been taken and twisted beyond recognition to fit far-right agendas, like the case of the desecrated church in Sweden. Others are made up from start to finish. Most of them are copied and spread by people who are doing it for fun or trying to make a quick buck – bizarrely, many of them are young men with no interest in US politics based in a small, impoverished Macedonian town. None of these people have an interest in telling the truth – it doesn’t make financial or ideological sense. These articles play on the fear and existing prejudices of their target readership – mostly conservative-leaning Americans – and many of the producers care little for the consequences of publishing such material. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be forming my political opinions based on bullshit a stoned teenager has pumped out from an Eastern European basement.

Fake news is something we should all look out for – even the most cynical among us can be hoodwinked. The more it’s shared among our peers, the more in danger we are of being sucked in. Which brings us to my second point – the echo chamber effect.

A lot of people are getting increasingly weirded out by algorithms – used by Facebook, Google and Insta – that sift through content and choose what they think is most ‘relevant’ to us. Not only are they usually off the mark – Instagram insists on showing me every single post from a girl I met twice while burying all content from three of my closest friends…ANNOYING – but they have also been shown to actively limit our view of the world by feeding us content that panders to our existing opinions. That’s great when it means that bogus sites are blocked from view, some people might appreciate only seeing “quality” content from the Guardian and the New York Times etc on their screens. However, I firmly believe that getting as close to the truth as possible means examining a story or issue from all angles and viewpoints. Staying well-informed and merely confirming your own biases are two very different things.

We can’t just blame Facebook, though. All of the problems that algorithms pose are nothing compared to what we inflict upon ourselves. As Prof. Kartik Hosanagar said in an article for Wired; “We can easily break free, but we choose not to.” By choosing to click primarily on articles posted by friends with similar ideologies to our own and shutting down or unfriending anyone who disagrees with us, we lock ourselves into a filter bubble that tells us only what we want to hear. And yes, the echo chamber is just as damaging for liberals as it is for conservatives. When we become accustomed to reading about things from one viewpoint only, our minds narrow and we get cut off from the views of others. Shutters come down, and social divides deepen. We become boxed-in, passive consumers of media, rather than active and informed critical thinkers.

That’s why I don’t think that wiping out your news feed is irresponsible at all. In fact, I think it’s one of the most socially responsible things you can do online. Ruth Whippman’s nightmare ideal of being plugged into the rolling news stream 24/7 doesn’t help anyone – it actively exposes us to bogus news and opinion reinforcement, encourages us to blithely accept whatever appears in front of us, and stresses us out to boot. However, I’m not advocating sticking fingers in ears and pretending that nothing bad ever happens. Instead, I’d like to see a shift from passive to active news consumption among my peers. This involves clicking on fewer links – I try to read between three and six articles a day on a variety of topics from diverse viewpoints – but reading and questioning more.

It involves digging out the news yourself, finding the counter arguments (http://www.adweek.com/digital/vincent-gibson-centric-app-guest-post-social-media-echo-chamber/), and looking at historical precedents. It involves trying to make up your own mind about events, based on facts and expert opinion and taking action based on the results. Look into the legitimacy of what you’re reading and the sources that are feeding you stories. Question everything and don’t, for the love of god, blindly accept the blurb that is fed to you as fact.

Seek out the opposite argument, no matter how much you dislike it. Search for the rational voice that counters your belief and ask yourself if any of it is worth considering – unless of course they’re making racist, LGBTQ-phobic, or sexist remarks. In that case, rip them to shreds.

And don’t just listen to me. Check out the links to the articles I’ve posted, find more yourself, and form your own argument. Let’s say fuck you to the bibble, and start thinking for ourselves again.

Photography: Betti Hunter
Post-processing: Rae Tashman

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Betti Baudelaire

Betti Baudelaire is a Berlin-based freelance journalist and part-time barista extraordinaire. She enjoys making the most of her monthly travel pass, searching for bargains at flea markets, and pretending she is still a ballerina.

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  • Facebook is the worst T_T A few years ago, I got pretty good at not clicking on click-bait articles. I have never clicked on an article about the dumb cheeto from Facebook or shared the noise. Honestly, it’s been a great way for me to deal with it. I see my friends get all riled up about the dumb things the cheeto does/says/tweets, and they definitely have reason to be. But all this anger is exhausting. I think I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum, where I worry that in blocking out all the noise, I miss some important news (good or bad, usually bad…). I am listening to Pod Save America though! :/ -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

    • Space Cadet Betti

      You’re right, it is exhausting. Reading about Brexit online when it happened was more stressful than a full day at work! And it makes yo feel so anxious and stressed physically, too. Well done for managing to break the clickbait cycle – it’s impressive when people manage to do that because those headlines literally go through SO much planning and testing before they’re unleashed, just to make sure the maximum amount of people click. It’s crazy.
      I do get what you mean about missing out on news. I do feel like that from time to time, but I think that’s just another symptom of our FOMO culture. The way I see it, we are never going to know everything that is happening across the world, so we may as well try our best to stay informed but not send outselves crazy in the process! I’ve never heard of Save America – I’ll give it a listen :)
      Thanks for commenting!

  • i think in the end, it all comes down to how smart we are in digesting what we read or found online. i used to not have facebook until last year when i decided to create one. for me, it’s just a nice way to scroll down and look at ridiculously hilarious posts and adorable animal videos. other than that, when i have an article or news on my timeline, i choose not to believe what i read 100%. since here are so many clickbait, fake articles online, whether it’s on fb or other platforms so in my humble opinion, it all comes down to how smart we are when we have news shoved to our face like that. sometimes, i can’t help but to think if people can be skeptics when they meet others in real life, why can’t they activate the same mode online? i personally don’t have more than 10 friends in my facebook mutuals and that’s because i’m tired of internet drama; i’d rather find and read news from trustworthy sites instead of relying on twitter or facebook for updates. i’m not sure why a lot of people can’t seem to process that thought; believing blindly in whatever news appear on one’s facebook timeline is like believing in mouth to mouth gossips. i don’t mean to sound like a snob but for those who believe blindly in articles with clickbait titles, they probably need to be a little bit more skeptical, cynical and maybe work on their analytical thinking mechanism (no, i’m not saying those who believe easily are, for the lack of better word, stupid. that’s not my intention.) i think people forget that if in the real world, not everything is always what it seems, it gets worse on internet where everything is easily accessible for commercial exploitation. a part of me thinks that those who believe easily have easier mindset to, well, instantly believe as oppose to do more research on how legit an article is.

    i’m not gonna lie and completely eliminate facebook or twitter or other social media platforms because let’s admit it, they are fun sometimes. but in the end, it all comes down to how smart a person is when it comes to digesting what they find and read. the people who believe and follow blindly need to be reminded that bigger and better lies is a lot easier in the digital grid. also, just because we live in an era where not knowing the latest update will leave you feeling like a loser who has been living under a rock, it’s not necessary to stay plugged and not take a break. i’ve tried unplugging from time to time and it has since give me positive effects such as allowing myself to have more reading time in the real world. i personally am not scared to unplug; it’s difficult, yes but i’m not against it. i think that’s what we all need sometimes, turn the mute button on.

    p.s: this is such a very well-written post, i love it! x

    Elise L. | Mlkbox

    • Space Cadet Betti

      Thank you for such a well-thought out comment, Elise! I totally agree – deleting and deactivating will only get you so far. It’s up to us to use our own heads and engage our cynical sides a bit more. One of my favourite memes is a picture of Abraham Lincoln with the quote “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet” attributed to him. It never ceases to amaze me that so many people will fall for something that is clearly bullshit online, whereas in person they would call it out as phoney in a heartbeat! I guess it’s because it’s easier to make stories look legit when it only takes an hour or so to build a convincing website…

      It sounds like you’re no slave to social media, which is how it’s probably meant to be used. If we can all strike the right balance Facebook is a totally beneficial tool and a great way to have fun. But yep, you summed it up perfectly by saying that we all need to press “mute” from time to time :)
      x

  • I think at times, tuning out is a great thing to do. I pick and choose what I want to read these days. I only check my Facebook feed when I feel like it and I have a specific time to do so. Especially not meal times with family and friends.

    • Space Cadet Betti

      I totally agree! I definitely don’t advocate switching off altogether, but I think we could all do with being a bit more selective with the media we consume. You sound like you’re struck the right balance, and I definitely agree with not checking social media at meal times! Thanks for reading :)

  • This is such an important topic, though many people like to brush off the “fake news” outrage. I have many friends on both sides of the issue, so I see the echo chamber effect happening with both views. I always assume the real truth must be somewhere in the middle, but it’s frustrating to have to see such poorly researched, barely thought out statuses and posts every day. I’ve been thinking about deactivating Facebook for a good while now, and this most recent American election and the spread of fake media it brought certainly doesn’t sway me from that thought.

    Kate | girlinthebluejacket.blogspot.com

    • Space Cadet Betti

      Thanks for reading, Kate! I know, it’s a difficult topic to discuss because there are so many polarised viewpoints, and because this “fake news” fandango is just the latest incarnation of a practice that has been going on for centuries. Obviously Facebook has many benefits, but right now they seem to be outweighed by the huge list of cons. Personally, I’ve found that blanking out my news feed has been one of the most positive life changes I’ve made in a while, but I know that this solution doesn’t suit everyone. Deactivating is drastic, but it might be worth it for you :)

  • This is something that is so true, and so well written. I am sick of reading listicles, “news articles” which are just a page of tweets, and seeing click bait media everywhere I go. I want to be able to read genuine articles and pieces of news not something someone has written in 5 minutes just for the clicks. But I wish there was a way of only seeing the things you want to see from your friends, I do want to see the little bits my friends, especially those I don’t see very often. I like keeping up to date with their lives and seeing the occasional cute goat video but I don’t need all the extra. That’s why I like Instagram but a lot of people don’t use it. somehow I’ll find a middle ground I’m sure.

    The Quirky Queer