Breaking bubbles, shattering echo chambers

Photo by Casey Gomez, Student Publications

In about a year, American citizens will again decide who holds the privilege of leading our country for the next four years.

I was a freshman when we elected Donald Trump president. I remember how it felt to walk up freshman hill, passing chalked campaign messages since rendered irrelevant. I remember the utter feeling of disbelief on campus. Like many other college campuses and metropolitan areas, Atlanta is strongly democratic, and we had been firmly reminded of what it is like to live in a bubble.

2016 was also the year that social media became more influential than ever in determining the results and knowledge about the election. Echo chambers aren’t something new; we largely surround ourselves with people we agree with, who share similar values and who are passionate about the same things.

But social media certainly exacerbated this. Algorithms on social media platforms are designed to show you what you want to see, because this will keep you online for longer and drive up advertizing revenue. I remember the confusion of that freshman year, as we realized that our social media feeds were not reflective of the entire country. It is something that we should have realized earlier.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center this July, 54% of Americans get their news from social media sites “sometimes” or “often.” This is despite contradictory data that questions on the same survey indicate 62% of people think that social media companies have too much control over the news that they see and around half view one-sided news and incorrect news on social media as a “very big problem.”

I will be the first to admit that news sources, in their current print and broadcast television forms, will not survive the next decade or two (forgive me, Technique staff). 

However, I do think that the new medium has not yet settled into its final form. For now, all we have is a bizarre juxtaposition of opinion-driven snippets of news on social media against news platforms that are largely stuck in the past.

That said, there are ways to break the echo chambers we so often find ourselves in, and Tech is the perfect place to do so. There are plenty of political organizations on campus that are intended to expose students to new ideas. These students have a lot in common with you: they are young, intelligent and level-headed. Sit quietly and listen to what they have to say.

There are some things you can do online to broaden the viewpoints you are exposed to. Follow one or two people whose opinions you can understand and respect, if not fully get on board with. Subscribe to a newsletter like the Skimm or Morning Brew, which assemble important national and international news from a diversity of sources.

In the next year, there is plenty of time to read, to like and retweet, to share articles and have respectful debates. There is plenty of time to break the bubble and shatter the echo chamber.