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How to burst your social media bubble

Many are arguing that "filter bubbles" on social media are blinding us to the world around us. Here's how to pop yours. 

For many on the left, the election win of Donald Trump came as a supreme shock. In the last few days, experts have tried to explain this, and a narrative - outside of the errors made by pollsters - has emerged.

According to popular opinion, we are now living in a "filter bubble" on social media that shelters us from views outside of our own. We connect with people with similar views, and block, delete, or ignore those who are different, whilst social media's own algorithms make sure we repeatedly see only what we want to see.

Whether or not this bubble in some way caused the election of Trump is up for debate. What is clear, however, is that it made many of us blind to the world around us. We first became aware of this after Brexit, but now it is clearer than ever before. Social media allows unprecented access to millions of viewpoints, yet we are not taking advantage of this. It is easier than ever to know your enemy, and in order for democracy to thrive, it is important that we pop our filter bubbles now. Here's how. 

Hide your Facebook Activity Log

You may have noticed that Facebook often tells you what your Friends have recently "Liked". This is unfortunate because it invites judgement from others. In order to see more conservative news on your Timeline, you might have to "Like" certain pages or stories that you don't actually agree with. To avoid causing a false representation of yourself, you can stop Facebook from showing your friends what you've Liked by hiding your Activity Log. Unfortunately, when it comes to stories you've Liked, you will have to do this on a post-by-post basis, but you can hide Pages you've Liked using this tutorial.

"Like" Pages you don't agree with 

Now that you've protected your public persona, go ahead and Like the news sites you don't normally get your news from - including those which surface fake news. If you are particularly sensitive to things popping up on your Timeline that you don't agree with, you can use the Wall Street Journal's Blue Feed, Red Feed to get a general perspective on what is happening on the conservative side of Facebook. 

Be prepared to get uncomfortable

There is no point proceeding any further with popping your bubble if you are not prepared to see things you don't want to see and ask questions you don't want to ask. But remember: just because you see and acknowledge both sides of an argument doesn't mean you are giving them equal weight. For example, over the last few days, liberals will have seen a video of white children shouting "Build the wall", whilst conservatives saw a video of a group of people attacking a Trump supporter (warning: graphic). Acknowledging that the latter exists doesn't mean buying into a simplistic, "We're both as bad as each other narrative", it just means understanding the world around you better. 

Fact-check everything before you share it

When it comes to the fake news that has been disseminated around the election, conservatives get a lot of the heat. However, many liberals have shared an false Trump quote, claiming he said, "If I were to run, I'd run as a Republican. They're the dumbest group of voters in the country" in 1998. It takes a single moment to Google something like this before you share it. When it comes to videos, we often believe that because we can see something happening, it is true, but Snopes is an excellent source for verifying the real stories behind footage

For images, read our guide to identifying fake images online

Create an "alt-account"

Twitter users can create a second, anonymous account in order to follow users or pages which they disagree with, and therefore avoid cluttering up their own feeds or putting themselves in danger. You can also create Lists of people so you don't have to follow them but can still see what they are saying. 

Re-add your racist Friends

Over the course of the presidential election, many people have been blocking or unfriending one another on social media. Resist the urge. If someone is disgustingly racist or sexist and it distresses you to see them on your feed, you can hide them from your timeline but check into their page every so often to see what they are saying. On Twitter, you can use the quality filter to avoid abusive messages, but - if you are up to it - you can search your own handle in the searchbar to see what people are saying about you. If you aren't sensitive about seeing things, don't block or unfriend anyone just because their political views are different from yours. It's sort of not what democracy is about. 

Do not fall prey to the ad-hominem fallacy

Just because something has been shared by Jimmy, the three-toothed racist from your primary school, doesn't mean it is immediately wrong. Investigate and fact check everything you see, and don't just dismiss it because of the source it comes from. 

Visit r/the_donald

This subreddit is one of the largest bases of Trump supporters on the internet, and can provide you with interesting insights into others' thoughts and plans. For example, the writer Siyanda Mohutsiwa realised that Trump supporters were telling one another to hide their affiliations, therefore blinding the left to the reality of Trump's support. 

Subscribe to an array of subreddits

Reddit is the self-described "front page of the internet" and you really can find anything and everything on there. Subscribe to r/Labour and r/UnitedKingdom to keep up to date, but also subscribe (or check in on) the anti-feminist r/TheRedPill and r/The_Donald.

Visit 4Chan's /pol/ board

If you thought The Donald subreddit was the worst place on the internet, boy, oh boy, you thought wrong. The forum 4Chan's /pol/ - politically incorrect - board is a hub of the most vile racist, sexist, and every-other-ist perspectives on the internet. If you can handle it, it's worth a look. 

Challenge your Friends and Followers 

And not in the traditional Holier-Than-Thou way. Tell people if something they've shared is fake, let people know if their 140 take has simplified an issue, and be prepared to admit that issues are much, much more nuanced than statuses and tweets allow room for. Admit when you don't know what you're talking about. Be a lone voice against popular opinion. Make each other think. Perhaps this is the hardest of all the steps, but it is undoubtedly the most valuable. Above all, be prepared to admit when you are wrong. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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We need clarity on how Brexit will affect Britain's place in the digital single market

The UK's lead in technology will be undermined if we can't trade across cyber borders.

Brexit currently dominates the UK’s political conversation, as MPs begin to debate in detail what form it will actually take. Necessarily so – since there are growing tensions surrounding the government’s position on the customs union, single market access, Euratom and EU citizens’ rights.

The EU's digital single market (DSM) remains less debated. Yet the success of our country’s technological advancement and much that will drive future growth and prosperity depends on it.

Currently, the UK is the strongest digital tech player in the EU. Comprehensive analysis by Tech Nation says the sector is worth more than £160bn to the country – and investment reached a height of £6.8bn in 2016, 50 per cent more than any other European country.

We have 1.6m employed in the tech field, with an average salary of £50,000. Although Britain lags behind Europe in overall productivity, that is not the case for the technology sector, which is growing two times as fast as the non-digital sector. The tech industry grew 32 per cent faster than the rest of the economy between 2010-14.

A future outside the DSM will clearly bring risks to growth and jobs. The EU is planning to adopt a package of measures to enable unfettered online trade in services, capital and goods between the European Union member states. The new DSM rules focus on removing barriers to cross-border services trade, and harmonising consumer protection rules so that people can be confident of their rights if they purchase goods or services from another member state. They also focus on delivering the rules on, and investment in, cyber-security necessary to make this trade secure. 

If successful, the DSM will become one of the largest and most valuable trading markets for global online businesses. The European Commission values a fully functioning DSM at €500bn – worth an additional €415bn to the EU economy. That holds the potential to save EU citizens approximately €11.7bn each year in online shopping.

With the UK outside the DSM, UK firms may face barriers in cross-border online trade. Firms outside the single market are not allowed to process EU customers’ personal data unless there is a special agreement with the EU. It seems evident that a "no deal" Brexit would prevent any such agreement. Even if such a special deal were granted, UK-based companies could only participate in the DSM if UK consumer and data protection rules mirrored those of the EU.

Nonetheless, EU citizens might be reluctant to buy online from UK companies if one of the government’s red lines continues to apply. If the UK were not part of the same legal regime, someone in Maastricht who buys what turns out to be a shoddy product from a company based in a UK city will have to try to enforce their rights in a court in that city. Under the DSM, they can enforce their rights where they live.

The DSM is also about making the rules which apply to telecoms providers stricter and more consistent across member states. This is important as telecoms products are the physical links over which e-commerce takes place. More ubiquitous and lower-cost broadband access means more people can participate in the digital economy as both buyers and sellers.

However, the importance of stricter and more consistent telecoms regulation goes wider than the relationship between e-commerce and underlying networks. The entire backbone of global supply chains is based on the ability of computers to communicate rapidly and securely across borders. It's well known that parts for British car production move back and forth across the Channel before final assembly in Sunderland and Oxford, but that whole process is also dependent on telecoms backbones.

Economists used to think that goods could be exported but services could only be consumed locally. Nowadays, it is widely recognised that services, like telecoms, are deeply embedded in goods production. We are all consumers now of foreign services even when we buy domestic goods.

Brexit does not mean that telecoms backbones cannot continue to communicate. What it does mean is that if the UK telecoms regulatory system or standards start to diverge from the European ones, that it becomes more difficult and more costly to ensure seamless connectivity across the backbone which joins the supply chain. And if that starts to happen, it is another reason for a company to consider whether it’s really wise to invest in the UK.

By breaking down trade barriers online, we will encourage a generation of investors and entrepreneurs to work within the UK, alongside Europe. A European Commission study shows that only 7 per cent of SMEs in the EU currently sell cross-border, while 57 per cent of EU companies say they would either start or increase their online sales to other EU member states if e-commerce rules were applied across the EU.

If the government wishes to harness and attract talent from all over the world and keep us at the front of the pack, it needs to address the issues at hand. The House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee concluded that we have yet to see what the government’s digital strategy would look like post-Brexit. The longer Theresa May and her team leave these questions unanswered the more uncertainty will creep in and push industry from our shores.

The digital age is upon us, and the single digital market offers the UK the opportunity to be at the forefront of Industry 4.0, building upon our existing leadership within the digital sector and services. A commitment to pursuing a fully-integrated digital single market will guarantee growth for UK businesses, creating jobs across every region of Britain. Leaving the DSM would be a giant leap backwards.

Seema Malhotra is Labour MP for Feltham and Heston.