The blissful bubble of the Facebook algorithm

Today the UK made what I believe is a terrible mistake: it voted to leave the European Union. Sad, scared and angry are just three of the emotions I’ve been struggling with today, and I’m sure there’s more to come. At a time when this country and our friends and family are so divided, saying anything feels futile. And yet here I am, typing away. 

It was a beautiful sight, my Facebook feed. My left-leaning, remain-voting friends and colleagues were expressing their views regularly in the weeks leading up to June 23. I was empowered and informed, enthusiastic and optimistic. Our future was being safeguarded by a politically engaged generation.

But that’s the whole point of Facebook. They make your feed beautiful for you. They lull you into a false sense of security. All I was seeing was Remain, Remain, Remain because I’d made my political views evident through my choice of media outlets, the subjects I was sharing and the websites I was visiting.

The reality was starkly different, and for the most part I was blissfully unaware. Of course I knew there was massive support for the Leave campaign, but I was confident Remain would triumph. The toxic concoction of algorithms I’m exposed to daily, from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter and Google, made me ignorant to what my peers across the country were saying. I was in a left-wing bubble, a digital utopian world, and it made June 24 all the more shocking and painful to wake up to.

I thought it was a joke, when my partner told me the news as I woke up at 6am, having fallen asleep on the sofa watching the results roll in. It wasn’t a joke, and I was immediately confused, scared and extremely sad. Our future together had changed overnight.

It’s dangerous, this segregated world – and I don’t just mean the online one. We all live in our own little bubbles fed by the media we choose to read, the company we keep and the industries we work in. But today the very communication tools that should allow us to broaden our views and horizons are now hampering our ability to understand one another thanks to artificial, algorithmic intelligence.

And many of those who voted to Leave are highly unlikely to ever see our Facebook shares and retweets – they’re not all online, they don’t follow us, and their personalised algorithm’s probably wouldn’t point them in our direction anyway.

Instead, for the last few weeks I’ve been shouting into an abyss of like-minded friendly faces – my words not helping or moving forward a cause, but simply validating the sentiments of my online sphere. It’s comforting, of course, to know that I’m surrounded by people who share the same feelings. But it’s disconcerting to know we’re a minority, many of whom are perhaps ignorant to the ‘real world’ thanks to the internet.