The internet is often referred to as the “wild west” because everything can be found, everyone can be connected, and there are very few rules. We can open our minds up to anything we want, good, bad, and otherwise. The internet could be a great tool to unite us, right? Sadly, that has not been the case.
Facebook is unintentionally helping to keep us divided by only showing us posts from groups and advertisements it thinks we might agree with. This is called filter bubbling, and it has stifled healthy debate in our online experiences. I once researched a lightbulb for a friend on Google. An advertisement for that light bulb started showing up in my Facebook feed, and is still there.
With personal interest algorithms designed to bring you advertisements which appeal to you, the internet has become so personalized that we tend to only be exposed to the things some algorithm thinks we will like. The result is that we don’t see what people who differ from us believe. In fact, we may not even know they exist.
A stunning example of filter bubbling occurred during 2016 presidential election. Even if you were a Trump voter, you had absolutely no reason to think Hillary Clinton wasn’t going to be our next president -- the media openly dismissed Donald Trump’s chances of winning. How could they have been so wrong? It was a close election, but it was predicted to be a landslide victory for Clinton.
Our media failed to properly investigate and report the upsurge in Trump’s popularity as a result of specific groups of people feeling disenfranchised, hopeless, and desperate for change for years. Michigan and Pennsylvania were never “red states.” They still aren’t. Many people question why this shift occurred.Trump won because the American voters elected him. Simple as that. Whoever voted had two major candidates to choose from. We vote for whatever reasons we decide are most important. If you want your choice respected, you need to at least try to respect the choices of others. It’s dangerous when we dismiss and discredit those we don’t agree with.
It’s easy to declare oneself a “Democrat” or a “Republican,” or some other party with limited exposure to party doctrine. You might be a Democrat because your family has always voted Democrat. You might be a Republican because you admire a past Republican president. Maybe there is one particular issue a party espouses which makes you decide you belong to that party. Maybe you say you’re an independent because you don’t like politics. The point is we often blindly side with one group or another without understanding an opposing point of view.
If you are truly a Republican, or truly a Democrat, investigate and attempt to understand the beliefs of those who disagree with you. Contextualize what you believe by contrasting your opinions with others. We tend to forget that America is one whole nation, and we divide ourselves further by deciding that the country’s “parts” are based solely on our political parties.
Knowing how someone feels and why they feel it will only make you more credible. Telling someone they are wrong without understanding how they feel leads to much of the gridlock government we are suffering today. Open your mind, listen to others, and step out of your echo chamber.
Editor's note: This guest post was written by Kate Harveston, blogger for Only Slightly Biased, and the views expressed may not necessarily represent The Centrist Project