Choosing Civility: Escaping our Internet Bubbles

Many people today are lamenting the polarization of our politics.  This is not just an American phenomenon.  The cover story in this week’s Economist Magazine, a British publication, discusses “Britain’s Missing Middle.”  Part of what fuels the polarization today is our ability to choose the sources of our news and create an Internet bubble or echo chamber in which our views are repeated but not challenged.  In 2014, The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of conservatives and liberals to explore this polarization in detail.  Among the findings of the study, which can be found here, were the following:

Overall, the study finds that consistent conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.
  • Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

By contrast, those with consistently liberal views:

  • Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some – like NPR and the New York Times– that others use far less.
  • Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics.
  • Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

While the Internet enables us to create our own personal bubbles, it also enables us, with little effort, to broaden our sources of news and commentary and perhaps increase our ability to understand better the opinions of those who hold different views than our own.  I recently came across an excellent site for doing just that.  It is AllSides.com.  Allsides presents news stories from the right, the center and the middle.  For example, here is AllSides’ lead story on today’s website:

AllSides

 

I have been using AllSides for the past three weeks and have found it to be an excellent tool for breaking out of my bubble.  You can learn more about AllSides by watching this two-minute video interview AllSides’ founder.

While you are at it, take a look at this TED Talk on “How to Have Better Political Conversations.”  https://www.ted.com/talks/robb_willer_how_to_have_better_political_conversations I think you will find it interesting.

Rodney Martin, Diversity Partner