Faculty Bulletin Board

Srinivasan's new book looks at communications 'bubble' that keeps us divided

Internet, social media act as echo chambers reinforcing our biases and beliefs, says UCLA professor

The day before the election, Hillary Clinton had an 85% chance of winning the presidency, according to the New York Times. For many voters who received their news via Facebook and Twitter, the chances of a Clinton victory seemed even higher. Yet on election day, Donald Trump won with over 300 electoral votes. If the Internet and social media are supposed to help us learn about one another, then why did the election results come as such a surprise to many?  
Ramesh Srinivasan
In a new book, "Whose Global Village?: Rethinking How Technology Shapes our World," (NYU Press, 2017) Ramesh Srinivasan, an associate professor of information studies at UCLA, suggests that the "global village" of open communication that the Internet was prophesized to provide has not come to pass. Indeed, social media often seems to have the opposite effect, exacerbating an already divisive media climate. The book is set to be released in February.
From Facebook and Twitter feeds that "personalize" content based on whom we friend, follow, or 'like', to the monitoring of location and history by Google, many of us are stuck in "echo chambers" that perpetuate our existing beliefs and biases. As a result, we rarely go outside our comfort zones to understand others' perspectives. Instead, we accept the Internet "as is" as our gateway to the world, Srinivasan says. This trend was even parodied in a recent "Saturday Night Live "skit . 
"Whose Global Village?" illustrates that, while many aspects of the Internet and social media started as community forums, our online social media environments today are controlled by algorithms developed by technology companies that are far removed from their diverse user communities. As a result, Srinivasan maintains, we are often disconnected from perspectives that differ from our own. 
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