Political echo chambers: Why it pays to listen to those you disagree with

March 28, 2018 — by Katherine Zhou

Political tensions have lead to harmful restrictions on views. 

In the age of Trump, political polarization is arguably one of the main reasons America is so divided. We see this in Congress, which is more and more divided than ever, and even in everyday interactions. People are feeling more and more pressured to take extreme stances, and follow party lines. Since the aftermath of the 2016 election, I have seen people being directly shamed and their character being torn apart for their political views, even if they are moderate.

For example, the day before the March for Our Lives, I saw a post on my Instagram that read, “If you don’t march tomorrow, you’re a disgrace to your generation.”

This message greatly upset me: directly shaming free speech. This is the direction both the right and left wing movements are moving towards, crazy polarization and silencing the other side.

Thinking about the message of free speech, it’s sad that the tool once used to protect Americans is now used to silence the opinions of others.

Besides listening, people from both sides should really make an effort to actually understand the other’s positions, why they come to a conclusion, their reasoning and the humanity that is in all people, no matter what they believe. (Of course, there should be some limitations such as hate speech.)

For example, in my daily life, I have implemented change to try to understand others. Scrolling through my YouTube feed, I see videos from right-wing conservative and more moderate commentators: Lauren Southern, Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos, while I used to only follow more leftist media, which clearly was only affirming what I already believed, sometimes even twisting facts so that they followed my own belief agendas. I identify myself as a liberal, yet I realize that watching biased media, that only props up your own beliefs, is not only the easy choice, but leads to an issue that I feel occurs much too frequently in today’s society — political echo chambers.

A political echo chamber occurs when people only surround themselves with those who hold the same political views. This is problematic, primarily because people start repeating the rhetoric of others around them without thinking for themselves. Instead of defending their views or holding them up to criticism, their views are simply reinforced — often times, people do not even research their positions and base them on what others tell them, leading to positions that are sometimes based on false facts and rumors.

In an age when people can seek out news sources that match their political stances and choose to only see social media posts that are based on their own political preferences, it’s rare for individuals to go out of their way to try to understand the other side instead of simply classifying them as “ignorant” or “wrong.” I’ve seen many videos where people, when confronted, cannot explain why they’re a feminist or why they support a protest they’re attending. Obviously, people should base their opinions on their own reasoning, understanding and research, and not follow the mob mentality that often occurs on both sides of the political spectrum.

In our school, a great divide separates conservatives and liberals. Often times, liberals continue to propagate their own ideas, while conservatives are largely shunned and left to congregate with themselves in the corner. Instead of doing their own research, conservatives and liberals create echo chambers, with both sides unwilling to listen to the other. Clearly, there needs to be some kind of discussion between the two.

So, how can people combat political echo chambers? In evaluating their own opinions, people should not jump to conclusions: everyone should always fact-check what they hear, research on their own through reliable sites that are as unbiased as possible and constantly question their own views by trying to understand other opinions.

But mostly, it is important to respect the opinions of others, or at least respect that people have the right to another opinion besides your own. You should never try to silence another’s opinion, but rather be open to civil discussion. Maybe this way, people can actually reach reasonable middle grounds, or at least realize that their opinion is not always what is correct.

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