Social media maps lead audiences out of echo chamber

By Sumaiya Omar


London, United Kingdom


Every few years, the way in which we discover social media content fundamentally shifts. From MySpace and Wordpress, where you typed someone’s blog address into the URL bar, to news feeds and timelines, it’s been a never-ending stream through which we scrolled and swiped.

But these are algorithmically designed to be predictable. So our view of the world are based on the friends we have, pages we like, and influencers and news brands we follow. Confirmative bias prevails.

Social media map features offer a different way to find real-time updates.
Social media map features offer a different way to find real-time updates.

Echoing our own views makes us feel comfortable, which keeps us on the platform for longer. This means Facebook can serve up more advertisements.

To escape the echo chamber, we must befriend people we may disagree with, engage with the so-called trolls, and follow news sources we may neither trust nor be willing to tolerate.

Alas, this is not necessarily intuitive to human behaviour. And real estate on social media’s current layout is tight, so the platforms have found a new place to house live broadcasts.

Introducing maps.

Social media is increasingly moving to real-time content, whether in the stories format or via 10-second sequential videos like Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Increasingly, this is happening with actual live-streaming using features like Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live. The beauty of being live is that it gives audiences a glance at what’s happening in the world right now.

While most people were following Hurricane Irma on cable TV, as correspondents in rain jackets battled to be heard above howling winds, I was watching social media maps.

Facebook’s Live Map displays a globe of broadcasts at any given time, with Periscope Map Live doing much the same. And Instagram location-based Stories, though not quite a map, is a curation of user-generated vertical videos based around the locations that are tagged. But perhaps the most interesting was Snapchat’s Snap Map.

Made famous by headlines calling for teens to ghost their locations, it’s not a map that tells you how to get somewhere. It shows you where to go.

Simply tap on a heat spot to see snaps curated based on time, location, audio, and some smart machine learning, which can work out what’s actually happening in each frame.

For breaking news stories, heat spots allow users and news organisations to see where a large amount of video activity is coming from and how stories are building momentum, giving us the ability to parachute into pretty much anywhere in the world, at that moment.

From the hurricane to the university football game, the map allows us to see hyperlocal and international stories in a convenient, intuitive way, making those echo chambers easier to break.

And the best part? They’re not algorithmically served based on our interests or location. Teleport yourself where you want. If travel is the greatest classroom, maps are the teleportation mechanisms at your fingertips.

About Sumaiya Omar

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