bert

Echo Chambers

Sometimes it can be hard to connect the dots of how society operates. Why do things happen in our society? Why does the pendulum swing to personal rights, then away, then back? Why is there a rise of xenophobia? Sometimes I just want to know how (I don’t really care about a certain movement, but I’m interested in why it’s suddenly so pertinent) . I suppose I should’ve taken more (read: any) sociology courses. Societies act like living, breathing, entities and I find them fascinating.

I’ve wondered aloud the ramifications of existing solely in our own private echo chambers within social media. Our Facebook friends (especially those that show up in our feed) are typically those that are like minded. Those that aren’t like minded we quickly unfriend, unfollow, or even block. Then we even have the gall to tell people that if they don’t agree with us on subject X “They might as well unfriend us right now”. The discourse today has become so heated, so angry – just turn on any US News program. As this discourse becomes so bitter, people have stopped listening to the other side. Politics seem to become more divisive.

Me, for instance, I exist in a heavily liberal echo chamber. Perhaps this is because I have a large number of writers in my feed (arts tend to favour left-leaning). My chamber is about women’s rights, human rights, LGBT causes, the 99%. To hear valid arguments from the right is something I have to seek out and research. Most times this is out of curiosity: why would someone think that? Why would they want a wall?

I was talking with was an RCMP officer investigating child pornography. This was about twelve years ago, so before FB and social media as we know it. At the time, it seemed that child pornography was reaching epidemic levels and these pedophiles were becoming increasingly bold. He said that it was because pedophiles could now seek each other out online with little fear or reprisal. They existed in their own echo chamber: telling each other that these were natural feelings, that children liked this interaction, etc, etc. They validated each other. So they became emboldened, and the police (and society) were facing a tough battle.

Because of an echo chamber the movement grew.

So now we have Trump. Who is calling for things that would’ve been considered ridiculous even 8 years ago. Building walls, deporting Muslims, beating up protestors, etc. He’s riding the same wave as Rob Ford. They campaign the same too (say it loud enough, long enough, and people will believe it, even if the facts aren’t on your side).

The Right (many who despise Trump as much as the Left despises him) are blaming, ahem, Obama. Because they blame Obama for everything. If it weren’t for Obama screwing everything up the last eight years (their words) then Trump wouldn’t be there to ride a wave of support from the (mostly) white disenfranchised.

So now we have Trump and people are angry. So very, very angry. I’ve read lots of articles on why they’re so angry. And I still don’t see it…but I don’t exist in those echo chambers. Echo chambers begin to cloud how we see the world. Outside ideas don’t exist in these chambers, and if they do, they are ridiculed and debased.

Another personal story: back during the time of the second Iraq War, I started out thinking it was wrong (why would we connect Iraq and the Twin Towers?) That was again, before social media was as ubiquitous as it is today.

I listened to a radio show on the local AM station. I listened to it every day. It wasn’t news – it was opinion. I didn’t like the show, necessarily, it was just something to fill the time. In it, the host argued, every day, that Canada should join the war. You know, after a couple of months, I started agreeing. We *SHOULD* join the war. Saddam is bad, we can’t stand around, the US needs our help, etc, etc. That was my echo chamber at the time, and it quickly shaded how I saw the world.

I stopped listening to the show, and my original opinions returned. But I had done a complete 180.

So now…we have the rise of Trump. Many are saying that Obama caused this. For whatever reason: poor governance (I think he’s done a good job considering the mess he was faced with, and a belligerent Congress), he’s a black man.

So now we have this reality TV star who is riding a wave of support to the Republican nomination. I find it odd that he’s doing so well, but I found Rob Ford’s support baffling too. They are both very extreme in their outlooks and both promised to pretty much burn the establishment to the ground (Rob Ford did not and could not – there wasn’t nearly as much gravy as he had claimed there would be). I suspect Trump will discover the same thing if he actually wins the Presidency. HIs office has real limitations.

Anyway, while there are many causes of the disenfranchised (so many different groups are feeling left out of the conversation). Maybe this disenfranchisement has *always* existed.

Maybe now we just have these echo chambers that are inciting us (and our leaders) to move further and further from centre. I was reading an interesting article in CNN. While I didn’t agree with much of it, it did point out one very interesting fact: FB and twitter really started gaining traction in 2008 and 2009…when much of this decisiveness began.

2008 was Obama’s first year.

The rise of all these movements: Black Lives Matter, Bernie’s run for the Democratic ticket despite the odds, Trumps rise to the presumptive Republican nominee (even though he’s not a conservative) – it because of social media. We exist in our own echo chambers and so our thoughts and opinions galvanize, solidify until we reach the point of no return.
When we believe that despite all the evidence, that Obama is a Muslim born outside the US. That lazy Mexicans are stealing jobs (uhhh…that doesn’t even make sense).
if we exist in our own echo chambers, we are never forced to test our own opinions. I have a lot of smart FB friends. And many are pro-science when it comes to vaccines, but ignore the science when it comes to GMOs.

One of my greatest influences was a high school teacher named Mr Pollard. He taught grade 11 history. I don’t remember one of the facts or figures were were supposed to memorize. But he was the first one that taught me how to develop an educated argument, how to defend it. It was pretty simple really and I still do it to this day: you must read from multiple sources from multiple angles. You cannot go off sound bytes or headlines. You must consume information, lots of it, and it must come from different biases.

Not only did he teach me how to write a wicked essay (his version was picking three distinct arguments, arguing each, then using my favoured one to bring it home) but I’d like to believe that he was the first one that encouraged us to think.

I get blindsided by my own echo chambers. Sometimes I realize I might’ve been on the wrong side of an argument (the Iraq War, for instance). But I think the key is to step outside the chamber. Open the door. Go to (gasp) Fox News, stop only reading the memes that you agree with, consume other material as well. You don’t have to agree with it, but try to understand it.
Because the way I see it, these echo chambers are causing the rise of extremism.