The Internet Needs "You Are Here" Cards

The Internet Needs “You Are Here” Cards

many of us remember the feeling of running around a museum as a kid, excited by the vast space and the seemingly endless possibility of finding that obscure dinosaur, or that species of fish, or whatever it was that brought us there . No matter how many times we were able to visit the building, seeing the giant museum map with the bright red “you are here” sticker was anchored. It even helped us discover new exhibits or other places we may have overlooked. The museum was a vast space, but the map was always there to help us situate ourselves, orient us to our surroundings and ultimately navigate to a constructive place (mostly) without getting lost.

Today, we spend a large part of our time in an extremely large and complex environment: the Internet. Yet most of us have very little idea of ​​its extent, topology, dimensions, or parts we have – and haven’t – visited. We’re in it without really knowing it where. Because birds of a feather flock together, we often lock ourselves in bubbles with others who share our political, social, and cultural experiences and beliefs. It is natural, and often precious: the creation of shared spaces fosters a sense of belonging, mutual solidarity, support and even protection against the “tyrannies of the majority”.

But fragmentation is increasingly the result of a deliberate design: segregationists who fear a change in the status quo, or those who have a vested interest in creating conflict. When we are in a bubble – say, a pocket of friends talking online about a specific issue, or a “filter bubble” created by content recommender systems – our perspectives can be biased by our most local contexts. immediate. And even when we are occasionally exposed to people from different bubbles, these interactions can only offer a superficial view of who they are and what they value, reflected through the lens of social media, which often rewards people. performative and attention-seeking behaviors. Having our exposure to others mostly filtered through the norms of social media platforms or our own moral intuitions for too long – or having no exposure at all – means we risk losing our intellectual humility, fostering the belief that we are at the center of the universe and that our own ways of knowing are the only valid ones. When this happens, everything we say or share, no matter how harmful or toxic, is considered legitimate because it serves a singularly meritorious ideology. As we slip, our social ignorance threatens to turn into social arrogance.

What buffers could we put in place to avoid this fate? The beloved cards that you are here might help you. Research we have conducted with colleagues suggests that reflective data visualizations designed to show people which social network communities they are embedded in could make them more aware of the fragmentation of their online networks and, in some cases, encourage following a more diverse set of accounts. These diverse and sustained exposures are key to improving public discourse: while forced or poorly organized exposure to diverse perspectives can sometimes intensify ideological polarization, when done thoughtfully, it can reduce affective polarization (how much we don’t like the “other” simply because we see him as belonging to another team).

The “Social Mirror” project, which we developed with Ann Yuan, Martin Saveski and Soroush Vosoughi, shows an example map of where you are here. The first step in creating the map was to define what “space” it should describe. For museums, defining space is easy; for public discourse on the internet, it’s not always clear what you’re trying to make a map of. Our space represented socio-political connections on Twitter, hoping to help people visualize the “echo chambers” they are embedded in and then navigate to more politically pluralistic discussion networks on the platform. To do this, we developed a network visualization where nodes represented Twitter accounts, links between nodes indicated that these accounts followed each other, and colors represented political ideology (blue = left-leaning; red = right-leaning ). Participants representing one of the represented accounts were invited to explore the map.

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