A leading psychologist has urged users of social media to burst out of their “comfort bubbles” and be willing to engage with people whose opinions differ from their own.
Professor Uta Frith, best-known for her work on autism at University College London, said in an uncertain world, it was important to be open to a diverse set of views.
Social media sites, such as Twitter, provided a “false sense of certainty” for its users by implying that everyone thinks the same way they do, she argues.
Speaking ahead of a speech at next week’s British Science Festival, Prof Frith said: “Social media has changed the world, and in lots of ways for the better. But we must be more aware of the pitfalls of living in a digital world as well. By shielding ourselves from contradictory views, and reacting to the emotional opinions of others, we are putting ourselves at risk.
“Because we are such intensely social creatures, we seek the comfort of being with like-minded people. We have a need to belong. We are pleased if we find people who like the same things we like. We are happy to have our prejudices confirmed.
“The problem is that the same information is repeated over and over again and remains in the bubble without spreading to other bubbles, and little new information gets in.”
The professor will be addressing the science festival in Brighton as incoming president of the British Science Association, which is hosting the event.
She admitted that she herself was a “confirmed Twitter fan” who was bewitched by the “comfort of bubbles”.
Prof Frith added: “When we talk of diversity, we often have in mind gender and ethnicity. But there are many other aspects of diversity: different expertise, different interests, different experiences, different personalities, and we need them all.
“My three top tips would be to look for multiple independent sources, neither only trusting gut instinct nor cold reason alone, and strive for diversity in all walks of life to break us out of bubbles we have created on social networks.”