In 2016 I was super concerned about making sure I wasn’t in a social media “bubble.” I wanted to proactively avoid exclusively following, friending, and interacting with people who could provide me with a nice, comfy echo chamber and who would parrot back to me what I already think. I wanted to be open minded. I wanted to cultivate diverse perspectives. I wanted to be able to listen well and learn and grow.
None of which was wrong in intention. Turns out, though, it was horrible in execution.
2016 Me: A SOCIAL MEDIA BUBBLE IS BAD
2020 Me: Rethinking Social Media Bubbles Entirely… And Kinda Digging Them
Now it’s 2020, and I’ve realized that, instead of giving myself diversity in my Facebook feed by keeping all my friends on equal conversational footing — by fostering and engaging in conversations with all players as though all ideas were created equal — I was ACTUALLY amplifying oppressive, discriminatory voices.
My main problem arrived in thinking “diversity” and “equality” meant listening to people from “both sides.” I value open-mindedness, and I measured it based on whether or not I was willing to converse with people with whom I disagree. I accepted at face value that there are two binary “sides,” and it’s that thinking that actually ended up keeping me mired in discriminatory practice.
As a white, cis female who’s become a politically non-affiliated progressive despite being raised within the paradigm of the “religious right” or “moral majority,” I patted myself on the back for “not having a social media bubble” since “I talk to friends on both sides of the political aisle.” In other words, I MISSED THE POINT OF DIVERSITY ENTIRELY. I mistakenly and wrongly believed I had a “diverse feed” by pointing to my many discussions with Democrats and Republicans and entirely failing to notice that 95% of my “diverse feed” was white, cis, and middle class just like me, and that those WHITE, CIS, MIDDLE CLASS HUMANS WERE STILL GETTING ALL MY ATTENTION AND AMPLIFICATION.
When people talk about “invisible privilege” this is what they mean. I genuinely DID NOT SEE that my feed wasn’t diverse, particularly because I’d taken such pains to cultivate diversity. I thought I was being diverse and open minded. I was actually being myopic and centering the white, cis, middle class experience and ensuring my demographic was the LOUDEST and received the most attention.
So I started keeping a deliberate eye on who I was paying attention to and who I was trying to converse with, and guess what? I was spending an inordinate amount of time responding to, debating, and expending mental and emotional energy with conservative extremists who are mostly interested in insulating themselves from any change that might threaten their power or position in our society. Then when I looked more closely at their own Facebook feeds and pages, I realized they were sharing fanatical, false, and oppressive articles and ideas AND ONLY 1-2 PEOPLE WERE “LIKING” THEM and, like, ZERO people were responding to them, so when *I* responded *I* was the one ensuring the Facebook algorithm showed their stuff to other people.
I was, in other words, giving extremists a wide and broad platform.
Now that it’s 2020, I’ve figured out the problem is NOT in having a bubble or an echo chamber. A bubble of equality and change agents is a bubble I’m OK with. The problem is that I CONFUSED DIVERSITY WITH ENGAGING WITH EXTREMIST POSITIONS RATHER THAN UNDERSTANDING I NEEDED TO ADD DIVERSITY OF RACE, GENDER, EDUCATION, SEXUALITY, ETC.
So I’m unfollowing folks with alacrity these days. And unfriending judiciously. Not out of spite. Not out of anger, even, although God knows injustice makes me mad. I doubt folks even notice the buttons I’ve clicked to quiet their sound. The point isn’t to make a grand unfriending statement. The point is to ask myself, “Is this a perspective that should be amplified?” If the answer is a GIANT NOPE — like the lady who shared her very first piece regarding racism in the form of an article that says we should affirm the phrase “black lives matter” but roundly dismiss the movement 🙄 — then I don’t waste any time responding. No. NOPE. No. No one needs to see yet another white lady thinking she’s “engaging” on the topic of racism by sitting in radio silence on the topic for years, inviting zero listening conversations with people of color, only to share from her White Woman Perch an article that minimizes and trivializes the ongoing and brutal deaths of black people in our country. Uh uh. Hard pass. Unfriend. Not interested in engaging or helping anyone else see that swill. Thumbs down.
Because engaging the racist white lady centers the wrong part of the conversation. It amplifies the wrong voice.
Instead, I’m clicking “follow” on the voices of black women who make me think and make me uncomfortable because they relentless reveal injustices to which I’ve been utterly — and sometimes willfully — blind. And I’m clicking “friend“ on people I should’ve friended in my own community LONG ago — voices for equality, change, representation, and safety and stability for people of color in my little town.
I’m cultivating an ACTUALLY DIVERSE feed rather than encouraging my own faulty belief that reading articles from FOX NEWS and CNN — and having convos with followers of each — makes me a diverse thinker. Because hint: it doesn’t. And, frankly, articles and humans who perpetuate injustice and who try to retain power rather than pursuing ways to share it, don’t deserve my time or attention.
You know who does deserve my time and attention?
People of color.
Humans who are trans, queer, gay, lesbian, and bi.
Asylum seekers who are being unlawfully detained and who are dying in U.S. custody.
People who are sick and vulnerable in the middle of a global pandemic.
The problem isn’t one of intention, it’s one of focus. Is my focus on the powerful? Or is my focus on the powerless? Am I centering those with privilege? Or those without it? Where have I turned my attention? Who’s getting the bulk of it?
I can look at my white friend who posts something wrong (unjust and minimizing others’ experiences), and I can spend my time, attention, and energy yelling “THAT IS WRONG,” debating with them and drawing others into that conversation. OR I can look at my black friend who posts something right (about equality, justice, centering the black experience) and I can spend my time, attention, and energy yelling “THIS IS RIGHT.” Now, whose voice do I want to amplify? Where — dare I say — should I be looking?
That’s not to say there’s never a time to call out my friends who are in positions of power. Those of us who enjoy any measure of privilege need to shoulder that work so our friends who are vulnerable and who’ve been systematically disenfranchised don’t have to keep doing it alone and so they don’t have to keep putting themselves in harm’s way to be heard. But I also try to BE SURE when I’m calling folks out (or in) that I’m centering the right people. That my gaze is where it should be. That the voices I’m amplifying are being amplified on purpose and not out of a misguided understanding that diversity only includes people who look like me.
So my social media bubble is alive and well in 2020. And it’s still not anywhere close to where it needs to be in terms of diversity. But I’m slowly figuring out whose voices to raise and whose to quiet. And you know what? The noise which was deafening is less so all the time. I’m homing in on where my attention belongs.
Image Credit: Paul Esch-Laurent