What Companies Should Learn About Social Media From American Politics

Beware the “filter bubble” effect of social platforms.

Reading Time: 5 min 


Social Business

Social business research and more recent thought leadership explore the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
More in this series

I’m always willing to listen to people who can predict the future. One example I often use with respect to digital media is Cass Sundstein’s 2001 article “The Daily We,” in which he predicted that the Internet would ultimately lead to increased fragmentation and polarization in American public life. Much of what he predicted in 2001 is playing out in the current U.S. presidential race, particularly among Republicans, where we see an unprecedented number of candidates who continue to stay in the race despite single-digit poll numbers.

One reason may be that social media is giving candidates and their supporters an unrealistically optimistic perception of their own chances of success, resulting in the current persistent fragmentation. The reasons behind this trend also have important implications for using digital tools for business.

Content Filtering and News Feeds

To be sure, a number of factors have led to the current fragmented political environment, but Sundstein predicted that a single digital feature would result in this outcome — a user’s ability to filter digital content. When social media tools provide the ability to find the content we most want to read, we are most likely to search out content that confirms our existing views. Algorithmic search tools like Facebook’s newsfeed exacerbates this tendency by automatically recognizing which content we have sought out in the past and then showing users other content that is most like that which we have previously viewed. We no longer need to seek out the content that confirms our own views — Facebook finds it for us. As a result, we rarely engage with content that represents viewpoints different from our own.

The same characteristic also extends to those with whom we connect using social media tools. The Internet provides a nearly limitless ability to connect with almost anyone online, and research has long shown that the types of “weak ties” we establish on these platforms can be very valuable for finding information.


Social Business

Social business research and more recent thought leadership explore the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
More in this series

More Like This

Add a comment

You must to post a comment.

First time here? Sign up for a free account: Comment on articles and get access to many more articles.

Comments (2)
Peter Modigliani
While Filter Bubble is an important issue that should be actively discussed as we get our news and establish our social circles, I think it is a stretch to conclude that presidential candidates are still in the race is because they have false hopes of winning because of the positive messages from their Facebook fans and Twitter followers.  

As you know many candidates are in the race (and stay in the race after they know they can't win) to keep up their public profile to compete for a cabinet position, run for Governor or Senator in the future, sell books, get a TV show, or advocate for an issue they are passionate about.  

Similarly, only the most naive business executive would make product and marketing decisions based solely on social media reactions.  Even the most novice SM consultant or team can advise on the data analytics from a target demo and limitations on the findings.  

As for those charged with shaping the minds of America's next great generation, how much filter bubble do you think exists in higher education?  If you analyzed the SM accounts of BC faculty, I would suspect that only a small percentage follow a few conservative or corporate accounts, while the overwhelming majority reinforce their liberal, academia viewpoints by following like-minded individuals.  

As you champion, we should all embrace diversity of thought and SM sources to shape our insights, decisions, and views of the world.
Omagbitse Barrow
I completely agree with the impact of the "filter bubble" and became personally aware of it once when I was using google to see how popular our website was, and realised that when I opened the url from my personal computer, we were always ranked first, but on others' we didn't even make it to the first page. I agree with your perspective on being careful about the illusions that this can create and I will try out and recommend some of your suggestions to others. Very useful!