You might hear the words “echo chamber” and think of what happens when you’re singing in the shower and your a capella rendition of the new Katy Perry single bounces off the trendy mixed tile and comes back at you sounding slightly less great than you imagined. (It’s okay: We can’t all be perfect at everything.) But the echo chambers that matter most are the ones created by media loops.
What Makes an Echo Chamber?
Typically, an echo chamber refers to when our existing beliefs and ideas are amplified or reinforced because of the TV shows we choose to watch, the articles we choose to read, and even the people we choose to surround ourselves with. In the first 100-and-some days of Donald Trump’s presidency, you may have noticed your friends and family members getting stuck in their own echo chambers… and if we’re being real, you probably have too. We asked Elle Lanning — an adviser to The KIND Foundation (a non-profit created by KIND), which has been working to create tools to help people break out of those echo chambers — to help us understand how these loops happen.
Lanning shares that these personal opinion loops are most rampant on social media. “Ironically, it’s a space where we feel most in control of the information we see,” she observes. “In reality, those decisions are being made for us, and they carry significant consequences that we are just now beginning to understand.” So if we’re not making those choices, who or what is? “Algorithms that present us with ideas that we are likely to agree with as opposed to alternate viewpoints are partly to blame,” explains Lanning. “We prefer not to see things that make us feel uncomfortable, and the algorithms have been designed accordingly.”
Algorithms or not, it’s important for us to take steps outside of our own echo chambers to allow for more open conversations with others — particularly as we all continue to learn how to navigate a country so divided by politics. Keep reading for four tips on how you can do just that.
How Do You Break Out?
1. Grab coffee with a friend you’ve been known to disagree with. By now, you may be sick of talking politics in social settings. We totally get it. Before you give it up entirely, though, consider a casual meet-up with someone whose take on things you haven’t heard yet… and if you already know that person’s opinions don’t match up with your own, all the better! Getting perspective about “the other side” from a familiar face is a great way to broaden your worldview. Is your social network in total agreement about the big questions? No worries! Check out Hi from the Other Side. It’s kind of like Tinder for political conversations but matches you with someone you’re incompatible with, allowing you to have a more balanced — and possibly more surprising — discussion.
2. Work new faces into your social media feeds. Everyone’s entitled to a good edit of their FB friends list every once in a while, but don’t make cuts simply because you disagree with someone’s politics. (Unless they’re obnoxious and aggressive about them — in that case, we understand.) The KIND Foundation created Pop Your Bubble to help you find fellow Facebook users with views that may shake up your feed.
3. Take a walk in someone else’s shoes. You’ve probably heard this expression before (maybe from your mom when you were getting picked on in middle school), but have you ever thought about how it applies to politics and your personal echo chamber? Next time someone with views that oppose your own goes on a rant, pause for a beat before you respond. Take a grown-up approach to that whole childhood “walking in someone else’s shoes” exercise. If all else fails, try out FlipFeed, an app created by MIT. It allows you to replace your Twitter feed with that of another real user, so you can see the Twitterverse through someone else’s eyes. It’s a social media twist on your mom’s favorite piece of advice!
4. Try out an unfamiliar news source. Break out of your typical media routine by watching a different TV or radio news station, checking out some new online sources, or listening to an episode of an unfamiliar podcast with a political or current-events bent. The app Read Across the Aisle can help you identify outlets that may clue you in on fresh and different ideas and arguments. You don’t need to agree with the way these other sources present or interpret the news, but at least you’ll have a more balanced understanding of current events and the way they’re perceived by others.
How do you make sure that you’re not stuck inside an echo chamber? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)