Thursday November 10, 2016

Can't believe Trump won? Get out of your social media bubble

A member of "the silent majority" celebrates Donald Trump's presidential win in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 8, 2016.

A member of "the silent majority" celebrates Donald Trump's presidential win in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 8, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Listen 9:11

Let's agree that a lot of people predicted the outcome of the US election incorrectly.

Pollsters, pundits, media mouthpieces, smug tweeters, and Facebook memers.

What those groups forgot, according to media and communications expert Mary Charleson, was that not everyone thinks the way they do.

Toward the end of the campaign, Charleson began to suspect the media was out of step with the American public, and wrote this prescient piece for the Huffington Post, published one week before election day: Biased Election Coverage And Consumption Will Have Consequences

Charleson told The 180's Jim Brown "I've got a number of relatives in the States. Very smart, articulated, educated professionals. It became apparent in their Facebook posts that they were counting on voting Trump. And I thought "why is that?"

I started dipping in to their Facebook feeds, taking a look at what they were sharing, and that's where it became very apparent to me that their perception of reality was very different from my perception of what reality was. But we both believed it to be true. - Mary Charleson

To Charleson, who is President of Charleson Communications and an instructor at Capilano University, the methods in which Facebook tailors media to its users, the way people of a similar mindset share content, and the way modern newsmedia works, have all led to a structure where people on the left and right no longer have to communicate with each other. 

"It's not just social media, there's other media at play. There's been a lot of consolidation of ownership in media. The suits would call it "vertical integration" where we get one reporter who's writing for multiple platforms, radio, TV, online, and we as citizens are reading all that stuff thinking we're getting multiple viewpoints, but we're actually getting content which is being created by a very small group of people."

Charleson says we need to recognize that the media's critics are right: mainstream news leans left.

"Add to that media which traditionally leans slightly left, there're exceptions to that in the States with Fox, but a lot of the media like the New York Times and the Washington Post, they do lean left. So you get this amount of content out there, and again people are sharing that content within their social media platforms."

You see this critical piece written in the New Yorker, and we start to believe that that is indeed representative of a larger viewpoint than perhaps it is. We consume what we want to read. - Mary Charleson

To Charleson, it's vital to democracy that people are confronted with perspectives and ideas that challenge their own, and this election cycle was a perfect example of how ignoring other perspectives ignores a broader reality.

"That maybe is the lesson we've all got to take in here. The way we're using media now to get information has shifted, but we're not necessarily being as critical of what that means for democracy, and getting good critical information."