Homophily

While in the car today I caught a few minutes of Naturebang on BBC Radio 4. This episode explored the link between Starlings and Social Networks.

I learned that when starling murmurations, or the swirling patters they make when flying in synchrony, were modelled they discovered that groups of seven birds control all of the crowds movements. One bird moves, taking with it the six birds close by, and they take the six around them, until all of the birds move together.

It’s all beautifully and elegant when seen in birds. Not so when translated into humans and our social networks. In humans this “tendency for people to seek out or be attracted to those who are similar to themselves” is called homophily. It’s also what causes the echo chamber myopia you get on social media. We all do it. Follow people we agree with. Repost things that reflect our opinions. I’m going to say it’s one part of the many things that’s contributed to political tribalism. Those with similar ideologies only interacting with others of a similar ideology. It’s probably why polling doesn’t work anymore. I’m sure the causes of the current political malaise are more complicated, and it’s a mistake to reduce things in this way, but as someone from Oakham once said, “the simplest solution is most likely the right one.” Beware, the way birds move together, might mirror how we coagulate on social media.

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