Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Danger of the Daily Publication's Echo Chamber

Cyclical news stories and insular communities are causing a sharp uptick in the narrow-mindedness of today's media consumers.  ♦ 
With the boisterous entrance of Donald Trump into politics, media platforms have switched their focus, shadowing his every move whether it be personal or international. The notifications that pop up on our screens, telling us what President Trump has tweeted, are equivalent to having daily fireside chats via radio with President Roosevelt in 1933. The era of social media simply being social is no longer the case, as outlets are more focused on celebrity minutia. This shift in news coverage and morphing purpose of social media to follow celebrity politics have changed the nature of daily news publications for good.

Newspapers give the option of reviewing all news, as opposed to social media sites that allow you to specifically target news groups or outlets whom you choose to follow. At first it sounds productive to only see what you want to see, but in reality it’s causing stalls in government progress, lulls in productive conversations, and barriers between beliefs. Social media has helped construct a political echo chamber; many people are stuck in this echo chamber, bouncing around the same information and ideas because of their narrow views or interests.

Daily publications used to mean that readers engaged with a variety of different newspapers that covered a variety of different topics and interests. Articles were well-researched, well-written, and relatively unbiased when it came to aligning with red or blue. Long gone are the days of newspaper delivery and unfolding a swath of black and white in front of you.

Now, an estimated 61% of millennials garner news primarily through social media. The overwhelming worlds of Twitter, Facebook, various news outlets, and so much more information are packed into people’s lives, streaming constantly from phones in pockets and purses. Instead of long articles, we are delivered “truth” in short, sometimes ambiguous tweets. Things spin through the news cycle much more quickly, taking just a click to publish and a swipe to refresh for new content.

This echo chamber is a result of partisan individuals choosing only to follow like-minded people, people who make them feel comfortable. The material readers engage with affirms their beliefs, further polarizing them along the political spectrum. Intellectual growth often comes when our views are challenged, but the political echo chamber allow no opposition, no challenge, just glorious affirmation.

According to the Pew Research Center, when news comes primarily from online sources both parties are more likely to be extremely biased and closed off. About 51 percent of conservative Republicans said that reading one-sided news is ok. About 73 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans agree that they see a news media bias. What this is resulting in is a loss of moderate viewpoints, constantly being inundated with overwhelmingly partisan news moving us toward the extremes of the political spectrum.

Although newspapers have always had an unspoken political party association, the correlation between news outlets and politics has grown stronger with the inauguration of our 45th president. News sources that disagree with the president are automatically labeled “fake news” while even slight praise to the administration is retweeted, re-blogged, and shared far and wide. People have stopped looking at opposing news views, comfortably content with the ever-refreshing feed streaming from their favorite media sources.

With every curious click, whether it be a morning show page, an opinion article, or a politician’s reelection page, the user is triggering algorithms. These algorithms are designed to lead the reader to similar content that says the same thing but in a different way, or says the same thing but, this time, with pictures. The echoes get louder with every click. Every social media app has sponsored news posts that are inescapable and inextricably tied to your other web browsing.

Another outcome from the difference in everyday publication is that the public is having more and more difficulty distinguishing opinion from information. Do people fact check or just automatically believe them? It’s so easy to believe something when it’s typed out and posted on a news website, or appears to be supported by photographic evidence. But we are misled all the time because of our diminishing ability to question fact. We all want to read things that flatter and complement our own personal beliefs, but don’t we all want to be right too?

It might seem hopeless, but there are many ways to avoid being sucked into this wormhole. Aim to be well-rounded. Inform yourself with opinions from all sides. Make sure to get all aspects of the story before reaching a conclusion. Consider how social conditioning effects the story, think about whether or not there is discrimination involved, etc. It’s easy to believe your side of the story is the right one when it’s all you’ve heard. It’s absolutely vital to not let yourself be polarized by the algorithm, by your own sense of comfort. We must all (yes, all) be able to work together in order to do what is best for the country as a whole, and a filtered media diet is not the best start.

  • About the Author
    Sara Azalone is a junior at Miami University studying Political Science, Professional Writing, and Italian.

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