Most people, if not all, have unconscious bias when it comes to political ideology. In Thailand, you might be a royalist or anti-monarchist, pro-democracy or pro-military, the list goes on. The decline of mainstream mass media and rise of social media means we are all increasingly our own gate keeper.
We tend to follow only those whom we share the same political view on Twitter, join one echo-chamber Facebook group after another, block those who disagree with us and be content that we are only surrounded by like-minded people. This ‘paradise’ of group thinks, and reinforced political parochialism only deepen not just political divide, but also the inability of our society to deliberate.
We instead find hate speech, or at least devaluing of those who believed differently from us politically, a common daily phenomenon. Many ends up reinforcing their own political and ideological bias through how they tailored their social media accounts and trapped in the loop.
Thus, it is not just about screening, fact checking or getting rid of fake news and information pollution. The challenges include the unconscious political and ideological bias in ourselves.
It is easier said than done to tell people to subscribe, be Facebook friends, or follow Twitter accounts of people who think differently from us politically. And even if some succeed, some will treat these messages with either a big dose skepticism or outright disdain.
In reading any text or sign, we often have a preconceived tendency to read it based on our bias or belief. We are never blank or a tabula rasa. A New York Yankee symbol (the intertwined letters of N and Y often found on baseball cap), for example, is just a slightly deformed asterisk without a preconceived ability to read English or knowledge about the popular American baseball team.
The same can be said about how people often negatively interpret messages from politicians or activists from opposition political spectrum (or to take the pro versus anti-Russia stance among Thais today, it is basically the same. Thai royalists who are mostly pro-Russia were more willing to believe in doctored photo of Russian President Putin holding a portrait of the late King Rama IX, for example).
This is how people end up tailoring and perpetuating their own social media echo chamber with willingness to believe in fake news. We are more like predictive typing program, reading and interpreting based on our preconceived political belief, than we think.
There is no other solution but to try to be conscious of our unconscious political bias, however. Democracy is not just about majority rule and minority rights, but about deliberation and compromise.
Deliberation and compromise are not prerequisites for one to dwell on social media, however. If anything, it is the opposite. One can self-tailored a cocoon, dwell on inside one’s echo chamber and be in that artificial environment which essentially reduced most into political fan boy or political and ideological sect member and feel natural and ebullient.
Alas, the deeper one dwell inside this self-created virtual space, the harder it will be for political compromise and cool-headed common sense in prevail in real world.
The other major challenge is how to avoid amplifying one’s interaction with others in a manner that will make us more extreme, emotional, and rude. Contrary to the face-to-face interaction or even phone conversation, people tend to be less considerate when interact on social media. When we do not communicate with a person in flesh and blood, it is easier to be impersonal and ends up becoming a troll. This too we should be mindful.
Today’s column was adapted from a text the writer prepared for the UNDP Governance Centre Conference in Oslo, Norway, on May 31. The writer would like to thank the UNDP Governance Centre for inviting him as a panelist for the international conference in Power, Politics & Peace.