Birds of a feather…should branch out.

Your social media timelines look too much like you.

That doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, you might not even notice it. People naturally gravitate toward others who are similar to them.

Clip from Disney Pixar's "Toy Story 3" (2010) featuring three plush peas snuggled together in a pea pod-shaped carrying case.

But, this phenomenon can be dangerous. Whether you’re doing it intentionally or unintentionally, excluding those with differing backgrounds, features and beliefs from yours further disadvantages people facing systemic oppression and hinders your personal growth.

The solution? Actively seek out and follow people whose sexuality, gender, race, size, religion, abilities and opinions differ from yours.

And do that IRL, too.

A series of white-and-blue sketches of the Instagram layout.

The problem with sameness

When you post something, especially something related to your values and beliefs, and all your followers like it and comment nice things, you feel good. Your brain goes, “Wow! Everyone agrees with my opinion. Therefore, my opinion must be good.”

However, if everyone that agrees with your opinion comes from a similar background as you, you deny yourself access to contrary perspectives. And, while it might feel good to have your beliefs unanimously supported, failing to engage with opposing views reinforces your existing biases.

Mr. Burns from Matt Groenig's "The Simpsons" (1989-) moves down a line of white men in identical grey and red suits. As he passes each man, they praise him individually, saying things like, "Absolutely genius," "Oh, yes, sir," and "'A' all the way."

This is especially harmful if you are of a dominant identity—straight, cisgender, white, thin, rich, and/or able-bodied. Members of these groups, often subconsciously, harbour oppressive prejudices against people disadvantaged by the system because they live swaddled in the comforts of privilege. When these prejudices are upheld by a uniform online community, the voices of communities facing oppression are further silenced.

In other words, when you only follow people like you, you limit yourself to content that preaches what you already believe. As a result, you can’t learn how what you believe contributes to real-world inequity.

Gollum of the "Lord of the Rings" franchise holds their hands up to their ears and says, "I'm not listening. I'm not listening."

Expanding your circle

There’s a reason Facebook mainly suggests people just like you. Social media algorithms recommend you pages based on what you’ve liked, commented on, and shared in the past. You’re shown people who are similar to the people you already follow—people who are similar to you.

If you want to diversify your feed, you have to intentionally seek out people who aren’t like you.

Plankton from Nickelodeon's "Spongebob Squarepants" (1999-) says, "But where would someone like me find new friends?"

A good place to start is by assessing the current status of your feed: a self-audit, if you will. Open your favourite social network. What does the average person on your timeline look like? What’s their race? Their gender? Sexuality? Religion? Social class? Size? Are all those things identical to you?

Then you’ve got some work to do.

Expanding your circle—but, like, actually

Diversifying your feed requires more than engaging with people who look different than you but share your opinions. It’s not enough to follow someone who preaches your internal monologue through different skin and then call it a day.

A cartoon stick figure sits at a desk. Next to them, a clock strikes 6:00. At the strike of the clock, the stick figure closes the laptop on which they are working and jumps out the window.

Diversifying your feed—and your life—means listening to and learning from people who disagree with you. It’s a daily commitment. It requires digesting opinions that conflict with yours, especially when voiced by people who don’t share your privilege. It involves consuming art that wasn’t created for you. Reading books that weren’t written for you. Watching videos that weren’t filmed for you. And, it requires accepting the fact that not everything is made for you.

It’s messy. It will frustrate you. It might even make you mad. That means it’s working.

Only when you open yourself up to differing ideas can you begin to recognize and dismantle your subconscious prejudices. It’s more than okay to change your opinion after being presented with new information.

Phil from Nickelodeon's "Rugrats" (1991-2004) holds his hands up and says, "Wait! I get it now!"

But, you won’t be exposed to new information unless you look for it. In the words of social media scholar and activist Ethan Zuckerman,

Encountering new ideas isn’t a supply problem in today’s internet – it’s a demand problem. There’s a near infinity of people unlike you creating content and putting it online for you to encounter. But it’s entirely possible that you’ll never encounter it if you don’t actively look for it… or unless the systems you use to find ideas start forcing you outside your usual orbits into new territories.

Broaden your social network by learning how Dr. Jill Andrew, Ph.D., a Humber alumni, advocates for her community as an MPP.

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