Comment pages are flooded with different reasons for the rise of populist politics.
They’re drowning in explanations ranging from the angry rage of white male voters to disenchantment with elitist politicians.
One explanation cropping up here and there is that the internet has changed the way we access information, creating an echo chamber whereby the news and views we consume are merely a reflection of the world as we already see it.
We’re no longer exposed to views we disagree with. They don’t appear on our Facebook timeline anymore.
The reason for this is simple. People – for the most part – engage with content they agree with and ignore content they don’t agree with.
Facebook wants people to engage as much as possible with their Facebook timeline. They want you on Facebook for as long as possible. Of course they do, that’s good business for them. And Facebook is a business that is relentlessly focused on driving revenues.
Your Facebook timeline is carefully designed to keep you engaged, and it does that by serving content you already agree with. It is an echo chamber.
But not all social media platforms are the same.
Let’s talk about the little blue bird.
Twitter’s business culture is very different from Facebook’s.
Twitter has long taken its political neutrality far more seriously than Facebook (though it also seems to take generating revenue less seriously).
Whilst these differences have led to Twitter being a less successful stock market bet, they also mean that Twitter plays a different role to Facebook when it comes to distributing news, views and ideas.
The different cultures at Facebook and Twitter filter down into the way each product works. Twitter is a very open platform. You create your own lists and feeds, rather than an algorithm deciding what you see and in what order.
Debates over content posted on Twitter are easily accessed.
By presenting trends with an ‘all tweets’ option it’s easy to see a broad array of different viewpoints. The ‘quote tweet’ feature also makes differing opinions easy to air, and even easier to view.
Where curation does happen on Twitter (through the ‘moments’ function, or the ‘what you missed’ lists) there is a clear, conscious attempt to provide a range of thoughts, opinions, and ideas.
Twitter has this week announced that it will enable users to ‘mute’ abuse (by turning off content that contains specific words or phrases). It’s taken a long time – some argue too long – to start tackling abuse seriously, precisely because it values free speech so highly.
This is why Twitter hosts so many heated debates that often don’t happen on Facebook. Whilst these debates can – all too often – enable abuse online, Twitter is providing a forum in which we can hear from the other side.
Whilst Facebook might be the dominant force when it comes to users and revenues, Twitter has a hugely important role to play in our public discourse.