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Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become the go-to lenses through which academics, pundits, policymakers and the press see the world. When it comes to fast-moving fields like politics, it seems Twitter has become the defacto publishing medium of the US government, with almost every agency and lawmaker or their staff now making use of it in some fashion. In turn, the press has become almost an extension of Twitter, glued to its endlessly scrolling pages in hopes of being the first to report the latest breaking news or offer their own esteemed commentary on the events of the moment. Yet Twitter represents only the most narrow and skewed slice of global society and is shrinking rapidly, with an aging user community that increasingly merely retweets others rather than comment themselves. This has led to an increasingly insular filter bubble that is less and less reflective of actual society. As Twitter is increasingly used to determine government policy and set the press agenda, how might we combat this filter bubble and its dangerous effects on democracy?

The so-called “Twitter bubble” has reached a point where even mainstream news outlets have begun to take notice. CNN’s Chris Cillizza recently took stock of the stark differences between the dominant narratives emerging on Twitter compared with traditional opinion polls and the ways in which the extreme voices that thrive on Twitter may be skewing political parties away from reality.

Twitter is shrinking as a platform, with fewer and fewer tweets each day by an older and older user community that is growing more insular and isolated by the day. The platform is increasingly used merely to retweet celebrities rather than post original content. In fact, the volume of new content on the platform each day is now smaller than online news output and in the vast majority of cases actually slower than traditional news outlets.

These are sobering facts for those who still cling to the false belief that Twitter is larger and faster than traditional news.

The unfortunate reality is that for all the press chiding of the public’s filter bubbles and echo chambers, the reality is that the press, political class and academia all live in their own such bubbles and echo chambers, addicted to the rapid-fire updates from their friends, fans and those they follow, but increasingly oblivious to the real world outside.

Much as today’s sidewalks are littered with smartphone zombies staring down at their screen and entirely unaware of anything happening around them, so too are the nation’s elites becoming ever more walled off from the public.

This is especially dangerous for politicians who increasingly labor under the false illusion that Twitter represents reality and that by listening and reacting to the loudest voices on social media they can effectively serve all their constituents.

So too is social media a corrosive influence on the press, as journalists race to beat each other to the latest Twitter scoop, while gradually forgetting the vast world that lies beyond Twitter’s borders.

Putting this all together, social media was supposed to expand our horizons, giving voice to the voiceless and letting us see, experience, debate and learn from the world. Instead, it has walled us off ever further, while making us feel the entire world agrees with us.

In the end, social media’s greatest influence has not been to bring the world together, it has been to tear it apart. Perhaps to save the world we must put our phones down and look up at the vast world in which we live.