Online Politics and How It Contributes to a Culture of Exclusion
There is only one thing I do more than talk and I talk a LOT (just ask my wife...) I read ALL the time. I used to read fiction but with the all out attack on print by the internet, I spend most of my reading time online. And I read news. Op eds. Essays. Think pieces. Articles I find on Facebook, in feedly, on Flipboard, in Apple News, in Long Reads. I'm a bit of a news junkie.
The interesting (or alarming) thing about this practice is that, with modern media, I get to increasingly tailor that experience. While I populate my feeds with *some* Right Wing RSS, I'd make a guess that 80 - 85% is extremely Liberal in content. I like it that way. There are studies done that conclude that we tend to seek out views that corroborate our existing worldview and I'd say that I fit right in there with that.
My mom enjoys her Facebook quite a bit but once asked me how she could "block" the posts from her Republican friends without letting them know they were "blocked" because she had to see them at church every week. When marriage became legal for ALL Americans, I watched many of my gay friends begin to cull their Facebook and Twitter feeds of those who were against it. As the #BLM movement became more strident and nationally known, the social media feeds burst forth in an All or Nothing polemic that had people unfriending long time friends masse. This is the thing we do; this is the world we live in now.
Things get sticky when one pulls back from the self-curated digital world (one can argue that those who strictly consume television news are curating their experience with allegiance to FOX or MSNBC or even Comedy Central) and sees a much more complex hive of varied opinions, voices and narratives that either challenge or downright dispute this bubble of safe information.
In media, an echo chamber is a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an "enclosed" system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed or otherwise underrepresented.
“It’s a closed community — almost a clique. They share memes and inside jokes, terms and phrases you’d only know if you were a follower.”
What group does this quote describe? It could be referring to #BlackLivesMatter. It could be Texas Secessionists. Maybe Trump Supporters or Bernie Advocates. In fact, it might very well accurately describe any Facebook or Twitter feed of just about anyone who uses these types of media. It describes any group of like-minded people looking for a "safe space" in which to exclude those who do not parrot their worldview. It depicts any group looking for an "Other" to set themselves apart from.
“It’s a closed community — almost a clique,” said Seamus Hughes, co-author of a report, “ISIS in America,” released last week by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “They share memes and inside jokes, terms and phrases you’d only know if you were a follower.”
This is how cults are formed. This is how movements are born. This is the Road to Exclusion, to Esoteric Justice, to the forming of factions and tribes and this is the Path to Unending Conflict. What is the end game of this constant creation of echo chambers? Either complete segregation or annihilation of the Other through demands of retribution. Oh, I hear you - not MY group. We just want to share the power of the majority. Bullshit. The GOP doesn't want to share jack shit. Neither do the social justice advocates.
The antidote to this is to be very skeptical of anyone using the pronoun "we." "We" is automatically wed to "Them." When any group of politically motivated people on social media suggest that their group speaks for a larger "we," smell the bullshit and move away. Look deep into the rhetoric of "we" and find the "them." It's there every time. Nine out of ten times the qualities of "Them" are based on stereotypes.
The word stereotype originates from the 18th century world of printing — it was a tool for the printing press that allowed printers to more easily reproduce text instead of having to place letters in order one by one; It was a single metal plate made from a mold of the original letters. In non-technical terms, a stereotype was a printing tool that made it easier to copy something because the work of actually reproducing the original was too painstaking, too hard.
"They" all act the same way. "They" are imperialistic, lazy, angry, privileged, violent, greedy, stupid, loud, marginalized, infantile, conservative, progressive, smelly, shallow, consumerist, capitalist, socialist, black, white, brown, foreign, native, oppressed, repressed, and need to be put in "their" place.
It's the easy way to see the world. It's comforting to see "Them" as monsters and "We" as heroes but the world is not easy. It is not simple.
The echo chamber proliferates the stereotyping of "them."
"We" all should know better but "they" are too stupid to see it.