Echo Chambers, Confirmation Bias And The Closing Of The American Mind

Echo Chambers, Confirmation Bias And The Closing Of The American Mind

Let's take a look at how social media influences the way the think and traps us within our own ideologies.
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If the 2016 election has proven anything, it's that the U.S. has become an increasingly polarized nation. This is a trend that can clearly be seen across the past decade as the two parties have shifted away from centrist politics and towards a more bi-polar system (for more detail, check out this PewResearch article). This trend is seen across the whole of societal life as the world around us seemingly becomes more and more segmented in belief and divided across a multitude of issues and identities. It often seems that individuals with incongruent belief systems are unable to have reasonable discussions not because they disagree with each other but instead because they are simply working with their own separate unique set of facts. Why is it that America is becoming more divided? Modern theorists offer a simple explanation: the internet. More specifically, social media.

The rise of social media and the internet in theory provides a unique opportunity to expand the worldviews of its users. It would make sense, as the internet allows us to read about, study and interact with people from all across the globe who are different from us culturally, politically and religiously. However, the opposite seems to be happening. This is because social media inadvertently creates something called an Echo Chamber. Essentially what is happening is that individuals, you and I, populate our social media pages with our friends, the people who surround us. It just so happens that we often largely agree politically and socially with those around us. This means that while on Facebook or while scrolling through Twitter, people are much less likely to be exposed to opposing view points. If you live in the South, you are more than likely (on average) surrounded by southern evangelical conservatives. These people will be your friends, your family and your co-workers, and they will be the ones whose posts you see on your social media pages. If you yourself are from the South, you are most likely a Christian evangelical conservative (again, on average); therefore, when you log on to Facebook, you are much more likely to be exposed to content that you already agree with. This is an Echo Chamber; you express your beliefs, and those same beliefs are repeated back to you. Your ideas are rarely tested because you are rarely exposed to individuals that disagree with you.

On top of this, there is a natural tendency among human beings to seek out information that confirms your own idea., This is known as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is clearly seen in how we interact with the modern news media. Because of the internet, individuals are able to seek out the information they desire to hear and ignore that which they do not believe. The internet provides people with the opportunity to do this. 50 years ago, most people received their information from a few select sources: either the evening news or from whatever newspaper they chose to read. This created a basis for national dialogue because everyone was working from the same set of facts. This system of course was not without its flaws, but it meant that national conversation was manageable. Yet today, people are able to seek out their own individualized platform for receiving information, meaning they have become locked into a perpetual echo chamber that reinforces the opinion they already hold while failing to challenge those opinions in any meaningful way. This destroys national dialogue and helps spread political and social division.

Now, not only is our example from earlier fed back his own ideas on Facebook, but now he also watches Fox News, reads Brietbart News (a very biased alt-right website) and listens to conservative talk radio, all of which continues to repeat his same ideas back to him. Now imagine that this individual were to be confronted by a Bernie-Bro, someone whose friends are also Bernie-Bros and feed him his own idea back to him on Facebook and Twitter, who regularly watches MSNBC and does not miss an episode on Bill Maher. What type of conversation are they going to be able to have? Each of them will already be operating on their own set of facts, and whatever the other says will likely be perceived as alien. It will be like they are speaking two different languages. Each person will think the other is mad, ignorant and foolish, and the conversation will quickly dissolve into annoyance and fighting.

This is what is happening all across the United States and may help to explain this strange and possibly horrifying election cycle. Each candidate is driven by a set of supporters who exist within an almost impenetrable echo chamber in which new ideas are rare and challenging ideas are unheard of. This, in some ways, explains the absurdity of what we have witnessed for the past two years. Each side must play to their base, making assertions to those who are entangled in the webs of an echo chamber, alienating many Americans who exist within the center of the ideological spectrum. This concept emphasizes the need for us as Americans to seek out new opinions that challenge our worldviews and drive us to think more critically about what we believe. The quality of our governance may very well depend on it.

Cover Image Credit: theday

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?

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This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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