I’m quite happy that my Christmas week-end post ignited quite a debate in the comments section.
Here’s a link, and summary, in case you missed it: in Is Twitter Telling You Only What You Want To Hear, I argued that there was a significant conformity risk in using Twitter as a source of “socially curated news”. When you use your followers as “trusted sources” to filter the links and news you’ll read, you gain in relevance what you lose in diversity. Unless you have an out-of-the-ordinary curiosity, or a policy of following random tweeps, chances are that you follow mostly people like you, with similar interests and opinions. In short, your Twitter stream is like an Echo Chamber where you only hear things you like and agree with. I suggested the half-arsed-controversial solution of nurturing “contrarians” and “antagonists” in our streams… and of recommending them in priority in the #FF weekly ritual.
18 PEOPLE COMMENTED, AND QUITE A FEW DISAGREED!
Thanks all for a great debate in these pages – Michele, Taariq, Jeremy, Carol, Neil, Sumner, Jackie, Dan, Jill, Freddie, Ken, Tom and Michele, thanks for proving me both right and wrong.
I thought the input was rich enough to justify a follow up piece. OK, a short one.
THREE CAMPS EMERGED IN THE DISCUSSION.
- Those who (mostly) agreed with the post, and commented on how easy it was to let your stream become more uniform. Social Entropy at play. But a number of commenters countered that you can address the issue at an individual level, seeking diversity in your stream more actively (e.g. following outside your core area of interest/business), and keeping an eye on more traditional sources and media (assuming they expose you to more diverse stories).
- Two commenters (@DanPerezFilms and @Prosperitygal) took on a different tack, and argued that the Twitter-echo-chamber issue is less about sample selection, and more about lack of debate in 140 characters; call it Twitter Etiquette, fear of the social media gods or simple “live and let live”, it’s true that you see more thumbs up than thumbs down in the average tweet, response or RT. This is an even bigger bias, much harder to address.
- Finally, one smart cookie moved the debate to a whole different level, suggesting a use of Twitter that is less about opinions, debates and “contrarians”, and more about discovery, inspiration and “igniters” (thanks @LeFreddie, I hope I did not pervert your POV too much). The way Freddie uses Twitter is about finding thought-starters, and people who will ignite fresh thoughts. I must say, I agree.
There is no doubt in my mind that self-selected samples are biased, however careful you are to balance them – birds of a feather effect. And there is also no doubt in my mind that most people lack the desire and drive to engage in real idea confrontation – which is where value is created. And yes – these issues are not exclusive to Social Media; but they are easier to fall into on Social Media. I think “diversity” and “open debates” are the big issues social media will have to address before we can be happy about them displacing traditional news outlets. Big stuff questions for anthropologists?
THE ONLY THING IN OUR CONTROL – “WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT OUR OWN STREAM?”
I think this is worth spending a little bit of time to figure this out for yourself.
What will you do to create more diversity in your stream in 2011, to nurture the contrarians rather than shut them out, to seek out more “igniters”, to create more opportunities for discovery?