Why A Polarized Media Impedes Understanding, Stifles Conversation

Truth can be a slippery, elusive substance. It appears before us, solid as a statue. Until we try to touch it, that is, or pick it up and hand it to somebody else.

It’s passed along and coated with new colors and textures, rubbed off each new hand that carries it. And by the time it’s done with, you might realize — though more often you won’t — that what you have isn’t the truth at all. It’s a distortion of a copy of a thing you perceived.

To be true, by definition, is to be in accordance with reality. Reality, being defined as the state in which things actually exist. Exist, being the fact or state of having objective reality. Objective, being not influenced by personal feelings, or opinions.

A slippery slope, then, when it happens that my truth is not your truth, or when the truth is too large of an animal to see in full. A slippery slope, when individuals tasked with discovering it are defined by personal experiences.

Think of it this way: if the truth were a rhinoceros, the person to its left might see just its feet, and the right may sees its horn. It’s not that someone is wrong, or has lied. It’s that they’re standing far apart, and are too proud to breach the distance.

The truth on the Internet: nonsense and noise

Thomas Arruelas once said “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

Or did he say that? Once, you might have had to take my word for it. But these days, you don’t have to, because you have Google. You have the Internet. And with these tools, you have millions of voices each steeped in their own truths, drowning each other in noise and poor grammar.

This is a whole new landscape of news and content consumption, and one that can either clear or obstruct our intellect; it can either narrow or broaden our horizons, depending on how we use it.

The purpose of journalism is “to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.” Online, it’s more difficult than you’d think.

Yes, the Internet has revolutionized the way humans stay informed. In some ways, it is better: when you have resources of various qualities, quantities, and dates at your fingertips, the world is your oyster.

Unfortunately, this particular oyster doesn’t encourage much prying. That’s because it exists to serve your preferences, rather than your wisdom. Cat videos, anyone?

The media tells you what you want to hear

The Internet is brimming with feel-good fluff. “Feel-good” often corresponds to content with little value or challenge — the fast food of the internet, as the Guardian puts it.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”jJc3K2J6nDRpSRx3AXfXeiITkmYmItPU”]Through self-imposed filters (who we’re friends with on social media, what we follow and like), people tend to isolate themselves in information bubbles, in which beliefs are enforced and dissent minimal. This bubble is then reinforced by online algorithms, which know your tastes and target you with whatever matches them.

These creates a sort of homogeneity where differing ideologies don’t intersect much at all, so that some folks become trapped in a walled garden of preconceived notions that go unquestioned, Pew Research finds. They read different websites, and on social media, are more likely to discuss things like politics, government, and social issues only with those that share their beliefs

Another relevant quote: Warren Buffet said,  “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”

This is akin to what some call confirmation bias: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of existing beliefs or theories. The more (any) information, regardless of accuracy, affirms our truth’s thruth-liness, the less likely we are to have open minds.

This goes for all political and ideological spectrums in the extreme. And as it has it, these are the most vocal and active groups. A vocal few, either in agreement with one another, or engaging in futile arguments in which there are only trolls and losers.

A space for moderacy

You could say that extremists are most vocal because they care the most about whatever their causes may be. Or it could be that they have the most riding on their beliefs. But these days, it seems that however you identify must be set in stone, and if your perspective differs, you are not only wrong — but you are a bad conservative/liberal/feminist/ally.

Not surprisingly, moderates are less inclined to engage. And those that do engage aren’t always as reasonable as they purport to be.

The problem is, we want to be correct more than factual. But when the affirmation of our own intellect overrides our respect and empathy for others; when we are more fearful than we are curious; when our defenses block the potential for mental stimulation and conversation; when our opinions are no longer our own, but that of a behemoth, we aren’t growing.

Of this, we’re all guilty. Because we are people with feelings and experiences that matter. That much is obvious, but viewing others that way? Oddly, less intuitive — especially with a screen as a divider.

We’re all still fallible, after all. But if the man on the left who sees feet talks to the woman that sees a horn, it might be easier to surmise that there’s an rhino present — and that it’s larger than the room itself.

Understanding all angles, if not necessarily agreeing with them, brings the big picture into focus. This way, little by little, the truth gets a bit less slippery.
Curiousmatic is a media startup that provides curious people with deeper understanding about the news. We utilize trusted sources and an objective, apolitical approach to deliver context and transparency about trending topics. Find out more about our mission here.

Jennifer Markert