Opinion: Online media creates political echo chambers

Whenever I discuss politics with my mothers we tend to run into trouble fully understanding each other’s perspectives. This trouble of bridging the gap between our politics has made me question how our understanding of the world could be so different while experiencing the same current events.

Each of our respective sides tends to be supported by an understanding constructed through different political lens, developed through news and the online political culture in which we surround ourselves. Because of this, political talks often end in a period of time to cool down.

With an online culture creating echo chambers affirming one’s own beliefs while labeling other opinions as inherently incorrect, partisan narratives thrive as little content to accurately display the other side’s ideas. Social media is especially responsible for pushing content which the user would find agreeable and reaffirming their sense of being on the ‘right’ side.

Those who heavily identify as either Democrat or Republican tend to dangerously dismiss the other’s ideas as something to be mocked. This creates a toxic discourse where individuals must either completely distance themselves from the caricatures designed by the opposing party or double down on these beliefs, further backing themselves into a corner.   

This us vs. them mentality leads to rhetoric and shorthand insults such as “liberal snowflakes” or “racist Trump supporter,” which easily convey a point about the opposing parties. However, neither side understandably considers the other to be understanding of the nuances of their ideas.

Whether visiting Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, it is incredibly easy to fall down a political rabbit hole. At first content created by everyday people examining normal concepts through their own covert bias is nearly indistinguishable, but the deeper one finds themself submersed in this content, the easier it is to accept controversial opinions as fact.

From the outside it is easy to mock conservative conspiracy theorist Alex Jones when he shouted “I don’t like them putting chemicals in the water that turn the freaking frogs gay!” But to his large fanbase Jones is seen as a voice of reason, unveiling the secrets of a corrupt government while providing solutions through his online store.

The average political centrist wouldn’t likely stumble across Jones’ radio show, InfoWars, and agree with his ideas; however, someone who has surrounded themselves by this culture may begin to agree with his points until they are buying water filtration systems from InfoWars.com.

Whether it’s through website algorithms recognizing trends for what posts an individual is likely to interact with or someone subconsciously surrounding themselves with like-minded material, people are slowly being forced to further identifying with politically-leaning content. This makes it incredibly difficult to understand arguments by the opposition.

Kathryn Schulz gave a TED Talk about being wrong where she explained a “Series of unfortunate assumptions,” commonly held when someone is confronted by another who does not agree with them. Schulz separated these preconceptions into three levels, each building upon the next.

The first assumption is that they must be ignorant, unaware of the correct information. Should they have the proper information and still disagree, they are “idiots” unable to understand the information at the correct level to agree with you. Finally, should they both know and understand the information while not holding your same opinion, they must be purposely distorting the truth for malevolent purposes.

By regarding the opposition this way, especially online, both sides disregard the other’s ideas and revel in their own rightness. But of course, no side actually has all of the answers.

To escape this, everyone must look at the opinions they hold and question how those ideas came to be. Examine what has shaped your own perception and attempt to understand how those who disagree came to view the world in their own way.

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