In an article posted on his website this month, David Byrne dives into politics, tackling a question that has been a subject of debate since Donald Trump started his run for President: “How are Trump supporters so seemingly unaware of his lies and bullshit, and the ridiculousness of many of his positions and ideas?”
The former Talking Heads’ frontman mentions easily apparent reasons, like middle-class stagnation and frustrations with a government that seems barely functional, but these prove unsatisfactory for him. “The question still remains: how do folks continue to ignore facts? How have people’s viewpoints become so insular and isolated that any contradictory information never even penetrates the bubble?”
He suggests that social media is largely to blame. “The problem with Facebook and Twitter is that those platforms mostly present a point of view that you already agree with, since you only see what your “friends” are sharing. We all do this to some extent—your friends share news with you and presumably many of your friends share your viewpoints. The algorithms built into those social networks are designed to reinforce this natural human tendency and expand upon it—if you like this, you’ll like this.”
Byrne quotes Wael Ghonim, who played a key role in 2011’s Tahrir Square revolution, where social media was crucial. “We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else,” Ghonim explains. “Five years ago, I said, ‘If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.’ Today I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.”
Byrne emphasizes that he is not holding himself above censure while scolding the rest of us. “I’m probably as guilty as anyone,” he notes, “though I do scan about four to five different news sources during my daily browsing. While none of them are presented to me via a social media feed, the newspapers themselves are skewing more and more towards likable headlines, topics and subjects. Am I then supposed to force myself to read the Post and watch Bill O’Reilly from time to time?”
He concludes by suggesting that the wide variety of city experiences acts as a possible counter to the narrowing effect of social media. “I’m going to suggest that cycling or walking around in different neighborhoods gives one a slightly more face-to-face view of the diversity of humanity, especially here in New York.”
Read the entire post on his website here.