Op-Ed: How Not to Live in an Echo Chamber

Written By: Josh Speer

If this election has taught us anything, it is that politics can lead us to extreme polarization and that something has to be done to clean up the mess we’re left with. Outside of the riots, protests, surge of hate crimes (whether staged or not), and social media flame wars, college campuses are also no stranger to this chaos. It is essential to take a step back and investigate what has led to this in order to determine how we can resolve things moving forward.

One of the biggest problems we’re facing today is people choosing (consciously or not) to live in an echo chamber. We’ve become idealogues. Ironically, one of the biggest problems is apparently social media.

A story on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday from earlier this year emphasizes the following:

“At the outset, the Internet was expected to be an open, democratic source of information. But algorithms, like the kind used by Facebook, instead often steer us toward articles that reflect our own ideological preferences, and search results usually echo what we already know and like.”

In an interview for the same story, Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy (an admittedly liberal website), rightly points out what he calls a “filter bubble.” He asserts that it is dangerous when you increasingly end up not seeing why people who think differently think the way they do while being completely oblivious to their reasoning. Pariser stated the following as to what his idea of a simple solution to this is:

“One of the best things has been actually seeking out and finding folks who don’t think like me who I’m genuinely interested in, as people and thinkers.”

Personally, I keep up with a wide variety of current events sources. Especially in the alternative media that is gaining traction as the mainstream media as we know it has basically lost the trust of the American public. They’re becoming oblivious. There are outlets on the libertarian/classical liberal end of the spectrum that I would agree with on most things like Ron Paul, Dave Rubin, ReasonTV, Sargon of Akkad, Being Libertarian, and Styxhexenhammer666. They’ve been objective and accurate in reporting on the facts, and truly eye-opening with their analysis throughout this last election cycle. However, I don’t just stop with them. It’s important to listen to people you don’t agree with on everything.

I pay attention to more conservative-leaning outlets like Steven Crowder, Rebel Media, Campus Reform, and Stefan Molyneux, who I may not generally agree with on everything, because there is a lot of common ground and I see a lot of value in their work. Then there are those further to the left of me like Kyle Kulinski, Sam Harris, and Philip Defranco. I probably agree with them the least on everything out of those I’ve mentioned, but they’re still some of the more trustworthy people on the left-wing end of the alternative media spectrum.

Colleges and Universities, believe it or not, share some of the blame here. When the University of Chicago announced that it does not support the notion of safe spaces and trigger warnings, and made national headlines in the process, you know there are issues. The same goes with situations such as the students at Colorado State University who attempted to build a “free speech wall”, and apparently offended some other students while doing so, who then decided to tear it to shreds. How have we come to accept this as acceptable behavior?

As Harvard English professor, Louis Menand, stated in an interview with Big Think:

“Universities are set up to have people work together by having them disagree with each other.”

He emphasizes that true intellectual diversity is how good ideas compete and come to light, and that the extent that everyone is accepting roughly the same paradigms for inquiry, with certain expectations about what counts as good results, is “not very good for diversity and that’s not very good for intellectual ferment.”

Harvard Law professor, Cass Sunstein, who has studied this phenomenon in-depth, stated the following:

“The mere discussion of, or deliberation over, a certain matter or opinion in a group may shift the position of the entire group in a more radical direction. The point of view of each group member may even shift to a more extreme version of the viewpoint they entertained before deliberating.”

In conclusion, it seems only necessary to get out of our social media echo chambers, get away from our safe spaces and trigger warnings in the educational institutes that are supposed to introduce us to the reality that we live in, and explore different angles and philosophies that we may not agree with or even be comfortable with in order to understand why we don’t agree. We still have to be able to live with one another at the end of the day, and it’d be great if we could debate and discuss ideas without screaming at one another.

Recommended: The Ministry of Social Media (Sargon of Akkad)

*The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Front Page, Front Range Community College or its associates.

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