Around 6.45am on June 24th 2016, sleepy Brits were jolted into reality as they realised their country had voted to leave the EU.
The vote was polarised in almost every respect. The young voted a separate way to the old. Cities were contrary to rural areas. The university educated disagreed with the school-leavers.
It is the people who are used to getting their own way who lost out. The educated metropolitans lost to the rural aging countryside. A section of society that has long been ignored were heard.
For me, the polarised Britain was not the most interesting part of the ‘catastrophic’ event. The interesting part was a) the reaction of the media and b) the failure of experts to predict the outcome.
The reaction was one of brutal anger. Brexiteers were labeled as ‘racists’, their campaign one of ‘disgusting lies’ and the UK was destroyed — ‘heading for a new recession’.
Michael Gove said early on that everyone had “had enough of experts”, and ironically, no one appeared to be an expert when it came to the general sentiment of the country. Very few media endorsed experts successfully predicted the the outcome of a referendum.
There was a light-hearted moment on Radio 4 where experts had placed predictions in envelopes, and out of 4 BBC journalists, none had got it right. One person even thought we would vote in by 70%+.
Fringe political opinions in every quarter
However, this lack of foresight, and also anger towards other sectors of the population is not a confined example in Brexit. All over the world fringe groups are rising from the underground. The alt-right and the Trump movement are key examples.
We misunderstand them and keep them on the fringes of debate at our peril.
And who can forget the momentous upset in May 2015 when the Conservatives won by a majority in the first place. They immediately had to follow through on manifesto promises which they expected to compromise once a new coalition was in place. The lack of prediction from polling experts set us on a path where we had to have the referendum in the first place.
The rise of the underground
The internet has brought many amazing things. Niche enthusiasts are able to find each other and share their experiences online. Which is great if you have an interest in a particular butterfly, but not so great if you are fundamentally upset about the status quo, and are organising a backlash.
Edge political enthusiasts are not brought into the mainstream mould. What’s more, their ideas can be seen as forbidden in ordinary discourse. So they develop new ideas in their own underground spaces . Some of their ideas are fantastic and should be part of mainstream discourse. Some ideas are bad, and should be argued against in mainstream media. However, most of these groups are completely out of the consciousness of many typical experts and educated metropolitans.
What’s more, someone who is centrist and moderate is trapped inside their own digital echo chamber. As centrists news feeds are filled with more Brangelina articles and less debate, they are discouraged from exploring new ways of thinking. As more of our lives are spent online we increasingly expect information to come to us, as opposed to going out in the world to try and get it.
Being online is an incredibly private ‘safe space’ for people. You only see what your own networks share, and you only understand what your friends think. Not being open to the physical world is incredibly damaging for most moderates as they are being bombarded with information they don’t want, which stops their own exploration, and the information they do see conforms to a standard they already agree with.
This is being perpetuated via social media algorithms, search algorithms and direct advertising — most of which people aren’t aware of. They believe the digital world is a mirror of the actual world, but it’s a dreamers illusion.
Introducing The Echo Chamber Club
It is with this mindset that the Echo Chamber exists. The mission is simple:
We find the established and mainstream point of view and we challenge it. Sometimes what we send will make you think twice, and sometimes what we send may anger you. We want to help you empathise with other people, and see the world through the eyes of others.
And how do we do this? We have our own social monitoring programmes that help us understand what the majority of educated metropolitans are reading and what they aren’t reading. Each week we take a different subject and find articles that run contrary to what you may already think.
We do the research, so you can open your horizons and start thinking like groups who you are not exposed to in your online and physical lives.
Why would you subscribe to The Echo Chamber?
Lots of media and information companies exist with the sole aim of making you smarter in a shorter period of time. This isn’t what we want to do. We want to make you more empathetic. We want to help you become kinder to people with different viewpoints. We want to help you adventure into areas that you found it hard to access before.
Our readers are the future leaders. They must have the capacity for empathy and to see the world through a wider lens.
Alice Thwaite is the Founder of The Echo Chamber Club