What has disheartened me most about today’s election is not just the result (although let’s be clear, that result is is so disheartening you might as well scoop out my brain, lungs and liver while you’re at it). It’s the realisation that my views – and most of my friends’ views – and the views that are fed back to us by our chosen media – are so incidental in the scheme of things that we might as well not have bothered to vote at all.
On some level, we’re all aware of how the web is sectioning us off into echo chambers. ‘Like’ something here, and a related article crops up there. Click on something one day, and see slightly different search results the next day. It’s a stealth march of increasingly personalised content, meaning that before long, you’re wrapped – or possibly trapped – in a cocoon of your own views.
This is comforting for sure, and probably saves you time if you just want to, I don’t know, home in on the best knitting patterns or something. But it impedes your critical faculties, and makes you overestimate the prevalence of your own opinions and interests. Especially for people my age – whose information about the world around us comes mostly from the internet – you may even start to forget that an opposite viewpoint exists at all.
In this case, I hadn’t got the faintest inkling we were headed for a Tory majority. Everyone I know is a disaffected leftie, who voted Labour or Green or maybe Lib Dem, or spoilt their ballot paper. My social media is full of articles from the Guardian, the Independent, VICE and the New Statesman, and statuses / tweets from people who consume that media too. I read Owen Jones and nod along; I see Robert Webb laying into the Tories and agree with every word.
I mean, I voted in Islington North for crying out loud, the heartland of champagne socialism and metropolitan self-aggrandisement, where you could quite comfortably set fire to an effigy of David Cameron in a public park and the park warden would probably cheer you on.
Today’s result, then, has left me genuinely stunned. Who votes Tory? Why do they vote Tory? Why is my social media feed so utterly unreflective of wider sentiment, and are all those Tory voters equally unaware of the opposite perspective? (Or is it simply that the Left tend to dominate social media in general?)
The whole situation is a mess, and it’s going to take a while to unpack it. But while I’m terrified about the implications of a Tory government, I’m pretty scared about the creep of internet personalisation too.
British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands