Make it stop! The Echo is Killing Us.
Why is it so difficult to tell where people really stand in an era where we have unprecedented internet access? At the7th.us, we are doing something to change this.
Last November many people were thoroughly shocked by the results of the presidential election. In total, 53% of white women and 30% of Latinos voted Trump. Furthermore, many counties that went for Obama in 2012, went for Trump in 2016. But somehow, many people had no idea that anyone, except the alt-right, was supporting Trump.
But, is this story really just about so-called “angry, white-lashing Trump supporters?” No. Hard analyses show that these narratives are not true. At the end of the day, most people still just voted along party lines. And many young people stayed home, whatever their particular political inclination. This ended up hurting Hillary more than Trump. With respect to total voters, the election was similar to 2012: Trump’s support was marginally higher than Romney’s, and Hillary’s was a shade worse than Obama’s. This story is probably less sensational, but it is more honest.
Of course, is this story only about Trump vs Hillary? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Despite all the pre-election talk of an unprecedented turnout, the largest majority of eligible voters supported, well, no one. Unfortunately, this is somewhat an American tradition.
The real story is that the the Internet makes people’s views on ANYTHING, not just the election, seem much more clear cut than they actually are.
Why don’t we hear more nuanced, varied opinions at all in main media or online? Why does it seem virtually impossible to access and engage with a wide range of rational opinions from across the spectrum on anything?
In its current form, the internet presents a tremendous paradox.
Although, it boasts a seemingly limitless power to connect, studies show that internet usage is making us increasingly narrow minded. Essentially, this is because the internet is trapping us into our own bubbles. Personalization algorithms and highly similar friend circles lock us into ideological echo chambers that reinforce our beliefs by constantly bombarding us with views similar to our own. In some cases, media companies practice outright censorship. (facebook, reddit, twitter).
Unfortunately, these echo chambers leave us less able to relate to people with diverging views, because it is more difficult to see how they could have possibly reached a different conclusion than us. This makes the internet fundamentally divisive, rather than the open tool we all imagined it was.
Perhaps you might think that some of these voices, however seemingly rational, shouldn’t be heard, like these pro-life feminists kicked out of the women’s march. Or this man who felt that Beyonce had one of the greatest music videos of all time. However, if the election taught us anything, it’s that you don’t convince anyone by drowning them out. Except for yourself.
In reality, there is a large diversity of views wherever you look: Actual Muslim refugees to United States take quite nuanced positions on the recent, much debated travel ban. Some liberals are calling for less censorship, and thus, less lazy-intellectualism. (Very well written article on that here). Others are calling for less corporatism influencing protests.
Ultimately, being trapped in these ideological bubbles leads to the ridiculous extremism that is becoming common place on the internet.
This extremism is partially attributable to the “like” only culture on the internet which makes users exclusively aware of who supports an issue, but not of the skepticism or apathy that others might have. In this way, “like” culture contributes to a simple “for or against” herd mentality that content creators easily exploit.
By demonizing the “opposing” side and calling it extreme, content creators can rally support around causes while normalizing their own possibly extreme views. However, this practice damages online conversation in two significant ways. First, it distorts the view of the “other” side making many well-intentioned people seem like monsters.
Secondly, it simplifies debates into polar extremes, making it seem as if in every debate there are only two sides — right and wrong, good and evil, smart and stupid.
What does all of this mean?
Well for one: Facebook is a good place to share your life with your friends, but not to get your news or learn about the world. The second takeaway is that we must use good alternatives to engage with others and expand our ideological horizons.
The degradation of the internet and online conversation is regrettable, but not inevitable. We can re-design and re-direct online discourse. We can refuse to let Facebook destroy the internet.
We at the7th.us are an Internet startup committed to one mission: To make it easier for Internet users to share, explore, and engage with multiple perspectives on a given issue. We are convinced that this is important. The internet should not make us narrow minded. The media should not be able to reduce what people are thinking to two perspectives. With the wide availability of smartphones and internet in the U.S., it should not be hard for the average Internet user to get a pulse on what people perspectives are around an issue.
Allowing multiple voices to be clearly heard in a conversation is advantageous because it then becomes less easy to stereotype a group of people (i.e. feminists, conservatives, liberals) when they are not represented as a monolith.
THE PLATFORM WE ARE BUILDING
We are inventing a platform that allows for easy discovery and sharing of multiple, divergent viewpoints on a given subject. It will be an interactive way to share and explore opinions around current events, headlines, and other user-generated topics of interest.
Our platform rests on two main principles:
1. Diversification- when a trending conversation occurs, we track and display the multiple, main viewpoints as the discussion develops.
Tracking and displaying multiple viewpoints will mitigate such absurd trends like “Tom Brady is the GOAT.”
It will also allow women to be heard like those in the women’s march who support equal rights and equal pay, but are pro-life. Allowing multiple voices to be clearly heard in a conversation is advantageous because it is less easy to stereotype a group of people (i.e. feminists, conservatives, liberals) when they are not represented as a monolith.
2. Rationalization- when topics trend, posts and links showing facts and providing context will be made easily accessible to all viewing the headline.
A prime example where this would be useful is in the much debated travel ban. A poorly publicized fact is that the executive order is an extension of an Obama era bi-partisan legislation , and therefore, does not mention any country explicitly except for Syria.
Making highly relevant facts such as these rise to the top in important debates will make it easier to classify headlines such as this and this as misleading.
Thus, our rationalization functionality will lead to more direct and productive conversations around important issues by appropriately contextualizing the matters at hand.
By making it easier to access varied content and points of view, we hope to provide a valuable and interesting service that will help broaden the Internet’s horizons.
Hopefully, this will lead to a greater respect for our differences and to more productive discourse when we disagree.
REASONS TO SUPPORT US:
- If after reading this, you think that our whole mission is about making you accept Trump or Trump supporters or Hillary and Hillary supporters. If this was your conclusion, or if you think that there can only be two sides, then implicitly, you have gotten our point that the internet polarizes people into only thinking that there are two sides. However, you did miss our opening statistics, which show that most people don’t heavily support either person (enough to vote) Our mission has nothing to do with pushing a candidate (aren’t we a little late for that?) Please reread our article carefully as ultimately the mission is clearly beyond politics). There are more than two sides to any issue, and there should be than two opinions heard.
- If after reading this, you assume that by giving voice to “multiple views” means that our primary goal is to give voice to extremists. (To automatically infer that “multiple perspectives” refers to extremism demonstrates our point about how common place extremism is these days on the internet as it exists). It also means you missed our comments about nuance. Please read this medium article for an example of a nuanced, liberal view that is not being considered and reread our comments about the nuance amongst liberal opinion. (However, if you really want a good, extremist, polarized conversation, please see twitter.com. They are holding them there every day!)