Bursting the Online Political Bubble

Through the previous two blog posts, ‘Politics in the Age of Facebook‘ and ‘Sticking to the Status Quo?‘ it is clearly evident that Facebook affects political opinion by promoting contagion of opinions and polarising perspectives. However, these posts failed to recognise the dangerous implications this affect may have.

In examining the polarisation that Facebook has on political opinions, it revealed that groups and pages, which individuals followed as they aligned with their own personal opinions allowed for the acceptance of information to support their own opinions regardless of its accuracy. This is illuminated by Christine Emba of the Washington Post who presented research which shows Facebook users tendency to accept inaccurate, false information shared in echo chambers in support of their political opinion. This proves to be problematic as, “the tendency to promote one’s favoured narrative is natural, but too much confirmation distances us from other perspectives and makes us unable to see the truth when it’s finally presented”.

This is evident in the example of ‘Pauline Hanson/ One Nation Supporters & Discussion Forum’ presented in ‘Sticking to the Status Quo?’ which presents both inaccurate and demoralising opinions in various posts as they favour the dominant political opinions and values of the group, which include stronger immigration policies. This is revealed in the image below which was explained in ‘Sticking to the Status Quo?’.

 

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Reactions to the post seen in Image 1.1

By looking at the comments, which some may consider to be debate, presented in the images above it clearly illuminates the prevalence of Facebook users accepting inaccurate information, including the idea that the United Nations would be against promoting the safety of refugees or favour death of persecuted individuals. This as well as derogatory, degrading language seen, including “black scum”, favours the dominant political opinions of the echo chamber which includes perceptions of  Muslim immigration as encouraging “threatening migrants”. These negative political opinions which Facebook is able to encourage and cultivate online through its polarising affect on political opinions within Australia is then able to translate into real life discrimination and xenophobia. This correlation between the affect of Facebook on political opinion and societal perceptions is distinguished by professor Andrew Markus, who draws links between support for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and the alienation and discrimination of significant sections of the Muslim community as a polarisation in attitudes creates a disparity in the fight between multiculturalism and free speech.

However, Dr. Ian Cook reveals challenging this online polarisation will be an ongoing struggle as engaging in politics online will continue, stating,

“It’s hard to develop sophisticated and nuanced positions on any form of social media, but they are hard to achieve via the mass media too. We can’t go back. We’re not going to go back to using the traditional mass media to get our news.”

This research illuminates that in order to widen societies scope of political opinions, as well as the consideration and acceptance of a diversity of ideas, Facebook users must first become aware of the affect of contagion when engaging with politics on the platform. This awareness must then translate into an active effort to consume a wider spectrum of political content on Facebook, which may present many different theoretical and practical approaches to politics creating a more diverse and accepting society, free from being negatively affected by a bubble of polarising political opinions online.

 

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Sticking to your Status Quo?

As previously discussed in ‘Politics in the Age of Facebook’, Facebook has rapidly emerged as a non traditional news platform in which audiences are able to engage with Australian politics. However, research has revealed that the affect of Facebook on political opinions is predominantly polarising with academics such as Dr. Ian Cook and millennials revealing the overwhelming potential for Facebook to result in the contagion of political opinions and its inability to affect change on audience opinions.

In examining the potential for contagion of political opinions on Facebook, it is clearly evident that it is the primary affect of the platform, with many groups existing to cultivate support for politicians and political ideas. One of strongest examples of this in relation to Australian politics is the ‘Pauline Hanson/ One Nation Supporters & Discussion Forum’. The private Facebook group, seen below, boasts almost 50,000 members, with the majority playing an active role in discussion. As the group title suggests it cultivates and encourages the support of Pauline Hanson and her ‘One Nation’ political party.

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By becoming a member of this private group it is easy to see the way in which Dr. Cook describes the potential for contagion on Facebook as he claims,

“Even when people join groups or follow news outlets that present a position counter to theirs, it is mostly to find out what the “enemy” thinks. So Facebook seems mostly about contagion.”

The privacy settings of the Facebook page appears to be significant in cultivating a large following with highly active posts and debates. This is because previous research suggests “that “liking” more right-wing political entities caused approximately 20% more anxiety than “liking” more liberal rivals such as the Labour Party… as appearing more right-wing on Facebook is perceived as being more socially undesirable.” However, by remaining a ‘closed group’, members are able to share opinions whilst remaining unseen, which the research suggested as a likely outcome of such groups as “if people were given the option to “like” political pages secretly then they would be more likely to do so”.

The below screen captures show some of the posts and discussion from the ‘closed’  ‘Pauline Hanson/ One Nation Supporters & Discussion Forum’.

Post and Discussion 1:

 

This post reveals how the private group cultivates support for one predominant political opinion , which aligns with Pauline Hanson’s political views towards immigration policies. However, it also reveals the power of polarisation and contagion as members who do not agree with the majority are ridiculed and prompted to “jump on the bandwagon” of the page’s dominant political opinions.

Post and Discussion 2:

This post reveals the potential for Facebook to affect political action, through encouraging the dominant political opinion and shows how Facebook pages such as this one allow individuals to follow outlets provided by people with whom they agree with which Dr. Cook distinguished as a contagion of political opinion.

Post and Discussion 3:

This post reveals how Facebook has the power to affect political opinion, as individuals are able to share opinions which resemble their own. Through a discussion with another millennial this was clear as she stated,

 “I only share political opinions I agree with and if I share ones I don’t agree with, it is to criticise them, not affect change”.

This shows how users are able to remediate authority by ‘microbroasting’ which research illuminated in the prequel post ‘Politics in the Age of Facebook’. It also reveals the shifting dynamics in engaging with politics as individuals are able now engaging with politics through non-traditional media platforms, as dominant media and news corporations continue to remain significant in a digital age through Facebook and society remains engaged with politics in this way. Researcher Kartik Hosanagar reveals that through examining the affect of Facebook on political opinions, one is far more likely to see a polarisation of opinions as political content typically encourages a fragmentation of opinions which is aided by the likelihood of developing off and online relationships with people who share similar opinions, the algorithmic nature of the platform to present information relevant to you and ones own preference to engage political content that is likely to reinforce our existing views rather than challenge them. This exemplifies Facebook’s ability to affect political opinions as it allows individuals to be “living in a bubble and barely registering in the minds of people who don’t share their viewpoint“.

 

 

Politics in the Age of Facebook

There is no doubt that social media has rapidly become a revolutionary platform for communication and among social media platforms, Facebook has remained relevant throughout the past decade.  As it remains significant, the scope in which people use it to communicate widens, introducing new levels of real world issues into the online world, including politics.

Through research and engaging with social media it is easy to see that “everyday social media use means that individuals do not need to formally join traditional political organisations to be involved in, or access information about, collective forms of politics“. It is this engagement that can be said to affect political opinions, however, there is ongoing debate about whether this has a positive or negative affect on individual political opinions within Australia.

While politics can be seen on Facebook, academics such as Dr. Ian Cook argue that,

“Facebook isn’t a medium that lends itself to political debate. The sites that news organisations provide generally attract comments from people with differing political positions and that’s where you find something that looks like debate. Mostly, though, it’s just people reacting without them actually debating.”

This is evident through looking at news organisations online following and the way in which Facebook users engage with their content. The image below presents current political content from ABC News, which allows audiences to share, comment and react to information.

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Image 1.1: Sourced from ABC News Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/abcnews.au/
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Image 1.2: Reactions on ABC News post which follow Image 1.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst Dr. Cook would be accurate in describing people’s engagement with politics on Facebook as a reaction rather than debate, the feature which allows users to reply encourages debate. However, as seen in Image 1.2 above, ‘debates’ can often be uneducated and cultivate negative reactions which remain true to their opinion.

Research suggests that,

“While political information found on social media sites may originally come from sources such as traditional media or political actors, users remediate authority and information by sharing – or ‘micro-broadcasting’  – in their peer-to-peer social networks.”

– A. Vromena, M.A. Xenosb and Brian Loaderc

Through looking at the ABC post about Labour minister Ian McDonald, the post had 81 shares, to 930 reactions. This reveals how engaging with politics on Facebook may not have a substantial affect on political opinions within Australia. This disparity between sharing and engagement may have a large significance in understanding how Facebook affects political opinions as interviews with millennials revealed, they

“(I) keep up to date with politics by following news pages on Facebook, but I never comment or share my opinions because I don’t think my friends would care about seeing that on Facebook”.

This idea was further reiterated by the Conversation, with their research suggesting “that users are worried about others’ perceptions of their political views and voting choices – so much so that they are reluctant to “like” a political party on Facebook”. This research however, is not inclusive of all Facebook users and allows for Facebook to affect some political opinions although “tends to attract the already engaged rather than mobilise those with no prior interest” which researchers suggest creates a polarisation of opinions. Through further discussion with millennials, one revealed that they actively seek groups and pages with political information and debate on Facebook which differs from their own, although most of the content they tend to disagree with. Through actively engaging with content that has the ability to affect their political opinion they distinguished the use of Facebook over traditional media platforms. This is illuminated in the following video from Sky News, which discussed the current relevance of Facebook  to Australian politics as traditional media audiences are reducing significantly and people are turning to platforms such as Facebook, which now has enormous reach within Australia, with approximately two thirds to three quarters of the Australian population very engaged.

However, most research points to Facebook having an ineffective affect on changing or influencing political opinion, as audiences engage with content which agrees with their own opinion. Dr. Cook from Murdoch University summarised this stating,

“In most cases, we join the Facebook groups or follow news outlets provided by people with whom we agree.”

This encourages not only a polarisation of ideas but the emergence of echo chambers on Facebook, which the millennial previously mentioned distinguished as he actively seeks groups and pages which share one opinion, that differs from his own. Despite research showing Facebook continuing to emerge as a significant platform of engaging with politics in Australia, it remains questionable the affect this engagement has on political opinions. The research highlights a disparity in Facebook’s affect on political opinion with academics and millennials alike revealing the potential for Facebook to encourage and promote a polarisation and contagion of opinions.

Humans are more important then animals, right?

In examining animals in the media it is easy to understand the fascination and entertainment value of such places as zoos and wildlife parks. However, it is also easy to dismiss the fact that this valued entertainment comes at a cost, not only to the viewer but the animal. For the most part, this entertainment is primarily successful through exploitation, by placing animals in captivity.
This exploitation is seen in the documentary ‘Blackfish (2013)‘ which advocates against killer whales in captivity. Similarly, the popular news program ‘The Project’ also highlighted negative outcomes and impacts of dolphins in captivity, as seen in the news clip linked here. The clip highlights plans from the RSPCA and Australia for Dolphins to use consumer law to form a case against the treatment and care of dolphins at ‘Marine Magic Park’ as part of a wider agenda to phase out dolphin captivity in Australia. It outlines the negative effects of captivity on dolphins physical and mental wellbeing identifying dolphins as ‘depressed’.
Despite these issues becoming popular societal concerns, the captivity of animals is not only restricted to water animals, but land animals alike which became very apparent after the tragedy turned media sensation at Cincinnati Zoo in 2016. This tragedy was none other then the death of ‘Harambe‘. The outbreak of support for Harambe that followed his death after a child fell into his enclosure, included countless memes and media support. This also brought about debates questioning human-kinds anthropocentric nature and the exploitation and unfair practice of keeping animals in captivity. This reaction can be explained by David L. J. Gerber , Claudine Burton-Jeangros and Annik Dubie as their journal ‘Animals in the Media’ explains:
“In several recent events, animals have been portrayed as vectors of risk: sick cows and birds as carriers of pathogenic agents likely to provoke important epidemics among humans, wild animals that become a threat to humans in a supposedly safe natural environment, and domesticated dogs that bite and kill children.”
These situations not only challenge the idea of human mastery over
the environment, but they also question the relationships developed between humans
and animals. Similar to the idea of challenging human dominance, Randy Malamud, author of ‘Representations of Animals and Captivity’ believes that rather than fostering an appreciation for the lives and attributes of animals, “zoos, reinforce the idea that we are, by nature, an imperial species: that our power and ingenuity entitles us to violate the natural order by tearing animals from the fabric of their ecosystems and displaying them in an “order” of our own making. This order can be explained by the image below which demonstrates how speciesism differs greatly from nature.
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This idea that humans are an imperial species, brings about questions regarding the anthropomorphism of animals such as Harambe, the gorilla. Psychologist Joe Pierre highlights how anthropomorphising animals such as Harambe can be dangerously misleading as although much of the public outrage carried claims such as “He was protecting the child”, to make such an assumption could have been detrimental to the child’s wellbeing as although he was initially holding the child’s hand, that does not mean he could not have then caused serious harm having felt threatened by the audience. This then leads to further questions including, ‘Was the child’s life more valuable then Harambes?’, ‘Why do we as humans think we are imperial to other species?’ and of course, ‘Did Harambe really have to die?’ The clip of the Harambe incident below, shows the events which resulted in the gorillas death and many reactions and such questions.
The answer to such questions is very easily debated with both advocacy for and against the idea of speciesism. However, the bigger question at hand should not be whether Harambe should have lived but rather should Harambe have been in captivity? Research highlights that captivity has had ongoing negative effects on gorillas, including obesity, as many captive gorillas including Koko, the gorilla famous for understanding sign language, are obese due to consuming more food and moving around less in captivity. So, whether you believe Harambe should have been shot or not may have been relevant in the context of 2016, but the idea that he shouldn’t have been there in the first place remains relevant in the context of animal rights.

Outside the fringe

“Can I borrow $5?”
“You’re just a racist!”
“Is it for free?”

These are just some of the common phrases I heard growing up in Sydney’s South West surrounded by people living in poverty, fortunate enough to live outside of the fringe but surrounded by people living in it. My best friend grew up in the middle of it, Claymore. To say that being surrounded by poverty doesn’t dramatically change your outlook on life would be an understatement. To say that these people are always stereotyped, their character oversimplified, would also be an understatement. I often see people exemplifying the harshest of stereotypes.

“You’re just a racist!”, just last week someone said this to me. Why? I asked them to leave my work, the local pub for many people living in Claymore. Why on earth would I ask them to leave? They left their 5 kids in the car outside to support their gambling addiction and waste what little money they had in poker machines. I did not care what colour their skin was, I did not care that they had a gambling addiction but I did very much care that they would leave 5 children in a car alone. Four corners 2012 report on Claymore featured below illuminates the realities of living on the fringe.

Stories like those of the people in the Four Corners episode are further explained by the Centre for Social Impact 2009 Common Cause Report into Sydney’s key social issues. The report reveals Claymore has higher rates of single parent families with dependant children, accounting for over a quarter of all families. This is characterised by low levels of high income, home ownership and high levels of public housing. This dependancy is due to a higher concentration of children with over 11% of the population being children under 5 years of age, almost double that of the 6.6% of Sydney’s total population. Claymore was also shown to have the highest unemployment rates and over half of all households falling into the low income category. These are not only alarming statistics but alarming for children as David Crosbie of the Community Council for Australia explains such circumstances resulting in a cycle of disadvantage. This cycle is obvious as children are often neglected or uneducated resulting in a vicious cycle of unemployment.

Unfortunately, I am able to witness this cycle first hand. I have seen friends neglected simply because there are too many kids to care for with the eldest becoming a lesser priority. I have seen kids wandering the streets at all hours on their bikes, appearing too young to be alone. I have seen blackened houses, following raging house fires as pictured below. And I have seen kids first hand being welcomed to a world of addiction of drugs or poker machines with mothers sometimes even teaching their freshly 18 year old kids how the money machines work in the hope that they may make a profit.

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Breaking such a cycle requires support by many institutions, including both educational and government institutions. Recent government intervention aspires to transform the socially disadvantaged suburb with the release of private housing lots. The redevelopment of the estate is necessary to break ongoing poverty, which the Minister for Social Housing, Brad Hazzard explains,

“It’s a sad fact that Claymore in Sydney’s south west has had entrenched poverty, disadvantage, unemployment and crime for more than a generation and currently ranks in the top handful of disadvantaged postcodes across the state”.

The transformation aims to redevelop the estate to be 70% private housing and 30% new and upgraded social housing which is intended to lead to a huge improvement in social outcomes. This redevelopment follows the successful redevelopment of social housing in Minto. Other social housing estates will also be transformed into mixed communities to help break the poverty cycle which spans many regions across Sydney including Riverwood and Bonnyrigg. The efforts of institutions including government schools and the government to transform Sydney’s underprivileged not only means a transformation for the future of Sydney but for the future of those living in the fringe.

 

 

 

Self-ie Obsessed

There is no doubt that among the Western world, teens and adults alike are sharing themselves online, through blogs, posts and in more recent years self images which are now commonly referred to as the ‘selfie’. This idea of a selfie- curated culture has been researched to reveal that the growing phenomenon of teens seeking online status has resulted in an increase desire for popularity rather then privacy.

“Many youth have learned the more you reveal, the more controversial your posts; the more you hashtag, the more effective your marketing,” said Debbie Gordon, co-author of the research.

This shift in perceptions of the self and others online, has prompted extensive research into the outcomes of selfies, including whether they influence traits such as narcissism. Despite the many studies, the focus that many researchers have taken to identify the selfie as inherently negative to the self have been irrespective of selfie campaigns.

Although there are copious amounts of teens such as Loren Gray and Scarlett Leithold, who are using the selfie as a driving mechanism in their online domination there are also teens on the other side of the world using the selfie as a driving mechanism for change. A group of students in Myanmar are enforcing positive change through a social media selfie campaign labelled ‘My Friend’ to promote tolerance of race and religion by sharing selfies of a multiethnic group of students as seen in the image below. The campaign follows ongoing and increasing violence towards Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims in a predominately Buddhist state. Co-founder, Wai Wai Nu of the ‘My Friend’ campaign describes the movement stating “Everyone loves to take selfies in their own way, so why don’t we use it in a proper way, for the betterment of society?”. The campaign is exemplary in demonstrating how selfies are now being used for a more profound and efficacious purpose then typically ascribed.

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This idea that a selfie can be a motivating factor in political and social campaigning is further illuminated by the recent #WISH campaign. The hashtag WISH, is an acronym for ‘Women in Solidarity with Hijabs’. Similarly to the ‘My Friend’ campaign, ‘WISH’ encourages women to take photos of themselves wearing hijabs to promote tolerance of Muslims in Australia and unify Muslim and non-Muslim Australians as seen in the image below. Despite the campaign being launched by an Australian Muslim, Mariam Veiszadeh there has been an ongoing backlash regarding the campaign. Veiszadeh claims,

“Not only do Australian Muslim women appreciate it, everybody is incredibly grateful that this mere gesture of sharing photos has a much broader impact on the community”.

 

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However, this claim is one that is rejected by many including Lauren Rosewarne of the ABC who believes the campaign “exploits real discrimination as an opportune moment for self-publicity”, describing it as superficial and folly. This cynicism of the campaign is not uncommon towards social media campaigning. Similarly to the #WISH campaign which promotes tolerance and acceptance, Megan Jayne Crabbe also aims to promote such values through her Instagram account bodyposipanda. Crabbe, uses the ‘selfie’ to share photos of herself and her body which she feels is her “happy body”. With over 915 posts, racking up over 693 thousand followers Megan continues to promote a body positive movement despite ongoing criticism and body shaming from strangers. Body or fat shaming which it is often referred to has extremely harmful effects, including eating disorders which previously affected Crabbe, as well as reduced self esteem. Crabbe’s reaction to this shaming is catalyst in changing perceptions of body positivity as she hits back at body shaming in a positive and powerful way, which is demonstrated in the screen capture from her account below. The account is exemplary in demonstrating how not only groups but an individuals are able to utilise the ‘selfie’ in campaigning for positive social change in society.

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Whether you’re sitting on the fence about selfies, or believe that they influence positive or negative traits among society, it is undeniable that they have become increasingly popular and completely transposed the way people share themselves online. However, the debate about how they affect many different personal qualities as well as social issues will be ongoing, as will the prevalence of the ‘selfie’.

Decades apart

In the 1930’s, Samuel Morse developed the Telegraph. Such a dated object in contemporary society, brought about revolutionary change to communication. However, it brought concerns about many concerns of its power. Similarly, the Internet exemplifies these same concerns decades later. Both technologies highlight privacy and power as a concern with moral panics having transcended over time.
I’m sure most people are familiar with privacy concerns on the Internet, including the threat of personal information such as bank details being hacked and used. This was also a fear of the Telegraph as Standage distinguishes ‘scam artists found crooked ways to make money by manipulating the transmission of stock prices and the results of horse races using the telegraph’ (Standage, 2015).
Futhermore, the privacy issues which have surrounded the Telegraph regarding gender also remain current in the Internet. Telegraph operators were said to be:

“Not only were they incapable of technical competence, young women, most vulnerable to losing their virtue, were also thought to be the most vulnerable to the vice of the telegraph.”(Cassell and Cramer, 2008) This is because it allowed a new platform for males to talk to women, through operating systems.  This same moral panic has transcended technologies as “According to the oft-cited Youth Internet Safety Survey from 2001, whose respondents consisted of 1,500 teenagers, approximately one in five American teenagers have been sexually solicited online.”(Cassell and Cramer, 2008)

Power is also a parallel between the two technologies, with monopoly power being a concern. The Telegraph allowed the establishment of the Western Union, a rail system which dominated through contracting with railroads and their ability to transport goods and people. Monopoly is also demonstrated online through the internet, with Google and Internet Explorer dominating other search engines and websites.

Moreover, the Internet has power to incite change and challenge dominant viewpoints. This was illuminated by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was inspired through social media campaigns in an attempt to challenge economic inequality. This parallels the Telegraph, as both the Telegraph and the Internet, were used to mobilise individuals to participate in public discussions through the technologies.

Despite, the parallels between the Telegraph and the Internet highlighting moral panics of society, there is also positive parallels. These include the effectiveness of communication. Prior to the Telegraph, communication was as fast as a person could travel. The invention of the Telegraph greatly increased the speed of communication with instant communication between countries. This was evident during the Crimean War where governments were able to communicate immediately, allowing news to travel across continents a lot faster too. The Internet paralleled this change in communication with messages being able to be transmitted across the world instantly, to a single person through platforms such as Facebook and Instagram as well as direct messaging and calls (Standage, T, 2013.).

Both moral panics decades apart, and the positive changes that both the Internet and the Telegraph incited clearly exemplify parallels between the two and how technological determinism has allowed the development of society.

 

References

Bellis, M. (2015). Samuel Morse and the History of the Telegraph. [online] About.com Money. Available at: http://inventors.about.com/od/tstartinventions/a/telegraph.htm [Accessed 1 Apr. 2016].

Cassell, J. and Cramer, M. (2008). High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online. Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected., (Northwestern University, Center for Technology and Social Behavior).

Figes, O. (2010). The Crimean War: The war that made Britain ‘great’. [online] Telegraph.co.uk. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8037668/The-Crimean-War-The-war-that-made-Britain-great.html [Accessed 1 Apr. 2016].

OCCUPY WALL STREET. (2016). About Streetnet. [online] Available at: http://occupywallstreet.net/about-streetnet [Accessed 1 Apr. 2016].

Phillips, R. (2000). Digital Technology and Institutional Change from the Gilded Age to Modern Times: The Impact of the Telegraph and the Internet. Journal of Economic Issues, 34(2), pp.267-289.

Standage, T (1998), ‘War and Peace In the Global Village’, The Victorian Internet, New York, Walker and Co, USA, pp. 136-153

Standage, T. (2013). Writing on the wall. New York, USA: Bloomsbury.

Uky.edu. (2001). TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM THEORY- Mass Communication Context. [online] Available at: http://www.uky.edu/~drlane/capstone/mass/determinism.htm [Accessed 1 Apr. 2016].