Social Media Twitter

The Herd Mentality on Twitter

Let me start this post by saying that I love Twitter and I believe we have culpability in the shortcomings I’m pointing out in this post. Please keep that in mind as you read this.

Social media platforms like Twitter (and Facebook) understand that shared values, interests and commonalities are the building blocks of community. To keep us engaged, they have learned to direct us to content and accounts (people) that reflect our interests. They send us notifications suggesting we follow people who are similar to the other people we already follow. If healthcare transformation is an area of interest for me, Twitter will point out others who post about healthcare transformation. In short, they profile the people we follow and try to find others with that same general background.

Here’s what Twitter says about how it makes these recommendations: Account suggestions on Twitter are based on many factors, including patterns from your following history. These suggestions are generated by algorithms, which means you may or may not know the accounts or find them relevant. We may make suggestions based on your activity on Twitter, such as your Tweets, who you follow, and accounts and Tweets that you view or otherwise interact with. If your settings permit, we may make personalized suggestions based on your visits to third-party websites that integrate Twitter content. Here’s an example of the type of notifications I receive:

What this means is that while we are on Twitter, we are much more likely to see content and perspectives that are similar to our own.  (We seek out this content naturally on our own. Twitter simply amplifies or facilitates this behavior.) Twitter, for better or worse, encourages a herd mindset. It doesn’t encourage a diversity of ideas and opinions. You have to seek those out yourself while Twitter spoon feeds you a list of like-minded individuals. (Do you think that is a fair assessment that I’ve made?) This is not done out of malicious intent. Twitter is simply performing a service – letting me know about people I may want to follow because they share commonalities with other people that I follow. It makes sense.

However, these Twitter notifications also play on FOMO (fear of missing out). It is not unusual for me to get a notification saying that five people I follow on Twitter just liked a specific post or are now following a specific account. The implication is that I may want to do the same. This tends to promote a feeding frenzy for specific pieces of content, all directed by Twitter notifications. With all of this focus on sameness, who has time to seek out divergent perspectives?

The danger in all of this is that the user stops thinking and exploring on his or her own. The stream of Tweets on Twitter is potentially overwhelming. So Twitter steps in and makes it easy for us to find relevant content and interesting people to follow. Meanwhile, clear thinking, even debate, is lost in the rush to Retweet and like anything that is somewhat sympathetic to the user’s point of view. I worry about these social media platforms that I love becoming purveyors of conformity and homogeneity where we seek affirmation of our opinions rather than alternative perspectives. In fact, I see an element of intolerance toward outside perspectives. Viewpoints are becoming polarized as they were in the last election.

Admittedly, I’m as guilty as anyone. I travel on Twitter with a herd of like-minded individuals. We follow the same people and share the same content. So where do we go from here?

What are your thoughts?

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