Trapped in the Echo Chamber

 
 

Amid the debate over fake news and safe spaces Ause Abdelhaq looks at how we shelter ourselves from opposing viewpoints.


SAFE SPACES have come under fire recently. Critics argue that they breed a generation of whiny, entitled millennials who cannot handle any opposing viewpoints. Others say that safe spaces deter discussion, and create an unrealistic environment, which could never be recreated in everyday, post-university life.

Nowadays most students will agree that while they can be useful in fragile situations (such as when confidential information is shared) it is important to engage in debate and discourse in order to understand the other side of an argument.

As such, we have seen guests such as Milo Yiannopoulous and Rob O’Neill come to UCD in the last year alone – speakers who, under such thinking, create a very un-safe space for women and Muslims in particular.

“When Donald Trump won the US Election earlier this month, shock on social media was widespread, but it should have been expected.”

However, with the rise of social media as the news outlet of choice for many students today, the bubbles we create through our choices on Facebook and Twitter are narrowing our viewpoints. Thus we tend to generate accidental safe spaces in our online world.

When Donald Trump won the US Election earlier this month, shock on social media was widespread. Frankly, people could not believe that a racist, sexist billionaire with no experience in politics was able to triumph over a practiced, veteran career politician.

But really, the victory of Donald Trump should have been expected. He capitalised on the frustration of a people who had been told that they had erred in being themselves and being victims of their societal upbringing. A people who had been shunned at school, or at work, or at home for holding views that didn’t correspond with the rapidly changing progressive agenda. A people who were confused as to what they did wrong, but were disciplined before they could find out.

 “The bubbles which we create through our choices on social media are narrowing our viewpoints and generating safe spaces in our online world.”

These are the people that are now being accused, across media, of being racist, of being sexist, of being anti-LGBTQ and islamophobic. They are being vilified and belittled and denigrated for simply having been born white and never being taught properly about privilege. Vilified for being born a man and not being introduced to feminist thought. Demonised for being born a victim of the patriotic propaganda machine that is the United States of America and never being told that other countries are as good, if not better.

People on social media didn’t see Trump’s victory coming, not because they are delusional or because they don’t understand politics, but because they simply weren’t exposed to certain viewpoints. The vast majority of people who use social media as their main news outlet were naive to the wave of angry, confused blue-collar workers rising in the States. This was largely because the websites which report on issues important to those people aren’t present in many liberal students’ social spheres.

Nowadays, we are afforded the opportunity to pick and choose which news we hear, which comments we read and which links we follow. Anything we don’t like, we can get rid of; see the hordes of Americans who demanded that anybody who voted for Trump should unfriend them on Facebook.

Social media has become an echo chamber, where we shout our opinions into a crowd and hear them shouted back a hundred times over through likes, shares and supportive comments. This is incredibly dangerous, because it shuts us off from a massive portion of the population – apparently, in the States, about half of voters.

The reality is that, in order to ensure that nothing like Trump’s election happens again, we need to understand that just as we are bombarded with coverage from liberal websites like the Guardian and the Huffington Post, other people are bombarded with articles and videos from conservative websites like Breitbart and the Daily Caller. We need to change that and end polarisation.

These people are not just characters on the internet; they are actual people who live next door, who buy groceries in the local supermarket and send their children to the school around the corner. Critically, these are real-life human beings who have emotions and opinions and, perhaps most importantly, a vote.

If we do not expose ourselves to all forms of news we continue to ignore reality. If we continue to refuse to listen to their side of the story the rise of the alt-right will not stop at Donald Trump, or Brexit, or the National Front. So long as we insist on alienating ourselves from debate and discourse, we will continue to fail as a society and as a people.

Our children will be the ones who suffer. They will look back in fifty years’ time and ask how it was that we were so arrogant and belligerent in our divine judgements that we allowed what was once a peaceful, progressive society, full of discussions and mutual learning, to transform into nothing more than a pack of angry, stubborn wild animals, scrapping at each other to the point of conflict.

 

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