Breitbart. Left Action. Allen West Republic. Mother Jones.
It’s not news that the internet has made it all too easy to live in an echo chamber. Thanks to various websites that purport to be respectable sources of journalism, thanks to memes that masquerade as news, thanks to social media outlets that spread gossip like Zika, we can spend all our free time rolling around in the muck that sticks to our own political views.
Conservatives argue that pretty much all media is left-wing media. Liberals argue that the very notion is ludicrous. But what does it matter? When you can spend your time in the echo chamber of your choice, there’s no need to listen to anything else.
Why are we more polarized than ever? Because we choose to be.
We choose to follow those sites that most closely match our own views. Want to post a nasty meme about how stupid liberals are? Sean Bishop can help you out with that. Want to read article after article about how stupid conservatives are? Left Action’s got you covered on that. Want some proof for your hunch that Hillary Clinton is being investigated by the FBI for turning the sky blue? Breitbart is all over that. Want some evidence that Donald Trump is, in fact, a lifelong misogynist? PoliticusUSA can help you out there.
Except that none of this is helping at all.
It would be easy to blame the internet and all its evil spawn for this, but it’s really our own fault. Were we not visiting these sites and getting stuck in the quagmire of polarization, these far right and far left sites would wither and die.
It’s easy to pretend that we turn to these “news” sources for information, but the reality is that we turn to them to confirm our own biases. It’s so much more interesting to read article after article that makes it clear that we’re right. It’s much more uplifting to read screed after screed that what we believe is truth. It’s much more exciting to learn from our favorite sites that our views have been validated.
Reading articles, visiting sites, and getting information from opposing sources is no fun. It’s disheartening. It’s demoralizing. It’s sickening. Those people are crazy. How can they even write that stuff? Who believes that crap?
Apparently, half the country believes that crap.
I spent a lot of time—probably too much time—perusing various news sites during this past election cycle. Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, Politico, Huffington Post, The Atlantic. Yep. I read all of them. I also looked at The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and <gasp!> Fox News.
I did so not because I’m an angel. I wanted to see what the other side was saying. I wanted to see how one issue was written about from a different angle. I wanted confirmation that the other side was completely wacko. It’s true. I admit it.
But I also did so because I didn’t want to get caught in the echo chamber. Not that I accepted everything I read from the conservative media, but it was worth reading. Even if I didn’t like it. Even if it sounded like a lot of crazy talk.
Like I say, I’m no angel. But I do wonder what might happen if we could close the echo chambers, put a lock and them, and seal them up forever.
Oh, wait—we can do that. We can silence the echo chambers. By simply clicking on those sites we disagree with in addition to the ones we usually turn to.
It is uncomfortable to venture into the media outlets of the dark side. (Of course, “the dark side” is the side you’re not on. Your side is a force for good.) But it’s also illuminating. It would be easy for me to write that it’s illuminating and not in a good way. But that’s not really fair. Just because my gut reaction is repulsion to half the stuff I read in right-wing media doesn’t mean that there’s no validity to it whatsoever.
But there’s more. Investigating the media outlets of the dark side reminds me that maybe I should look at the media outlets on my side with a wary eye as well. It reminds me that no journalism is completely objective, whether left-wing or right-wing or relatively centrist. Humans write articles and columns and op-eds. Humans are biased. All of us are biased in some ways on some issues. That’s just how it is. And so everything should be taken with a grain of salt—especially if it’s on the internet.
I don’t mean to sound all self-righteous, but I would like to encourage everyone to get out of the echo chambers, to get out of their comfort zones, and to take a look at the dark side. You won’t agree with much of what you see over there. It will feel distasteful. But it also is eye-opening.
If it has done anything, this year’s election has opened eyes. We have seen that there is way more hate than we thought there was. We have seen that there is way more anger than we thought there was. We have seen that there is way more intolerance than we ever imagined—intolerance of different races, different religions, different orientations. We’ve seen that too many of us are intolerant of different ideas, different ways of thinking. We’ve belittled each other for being overeducated or undereducated. We’ve belittled each other for being too wealthy or too poor, too successful or not successful enough. We’ve belittled each other for being too progressive or too regressive. We’ve discounted each others’ fears and anxieties.
What’s it matter what that Whole Foods pansy thinks? Who cares what that Cracker Barrel neanderthal needs?
It matters because that Whole Foods pansy is your daughter, your nephew, your neighbor. You should care because that Cracker Barrel neanderthal is your uncle, your cousin, your neighbor.
Perhaps if we spent less time confirming our own views, we would be more able to take into consideration what matters to that Whole Foods pansy. Perhaps if we spent less time seeking validation for our own biases, we would be more able to think about what that Cracker Barrel neanderthal needs. Perhaps if we spent more time silencing the echoes, we could hear what each other is saying.
I’m certainly guilty of poopoohing what I see coming from the right-wing media. I’m guilty of blocking friends whose views literally make my stomach churn. I’m guilty of ignoring the fears and anxieties and needs of those whose views are on the opposite side of the political spectrum. I’m guilty of living in an echo chamber of choice.
But no longer. I will listen to the shouting coming from the other side. I will pay attention to what the other half is saying. I might not agree with them, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hear them. I will choose to silence the echoes.
Will you join me?