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Social Media & The New Echo Chamber

Social Media & The New Echo Chamber

One of the best (read: worst), parts of college is the assignment (read: punishment) to write research papers on various subjects. Usually writing isn’t a huge deal, I’d like to think I’m pretty great at throwing some coherent thoughts together (though you probably think otherwise), but the issue is with a research paper, you can’t just put your thoughts on paper. You have to put a lot of time and effort into finding articles and studies that support your claims. I find this research usually leads me to change my claim, or adjust it to better fit the research, which means I have to adjust my paper and constantly check that I’m sticking to the research as I write. It’s all quite exhausting and much more difficult than a normal paper.

All this being said, research papers can be really interesting, and sometimes even rewarding (sometimes).

So let me tell you about my most recent paper. I wrote it for a communications class focused on mass media. Our assignment was to argue one side of a controversial topic focused around media, and find research to support our argument.

I decided to write mine about social media and its effect on political polarization. That’s right, politics. Buckle up kids, it’s time to get triggered.

I’m kidding, the purpose of this blog and my original paper is not to argue left vs. right or to hurt any feelings. The point is that a lot of us feel that our current political discussions are much more heated and extreme than ever before, and it’s important to know why.

What I found in my research, and what is truly worrisome, is that social media is having an effect on political polarization, and it’s not a good one. The ideological middle ground is quickly disappearing as we push farther to the extremes of both left and right-wing philosophy.

A Pew research article told us as much: ““The share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, from 10% to 21%. As a result, the amount of ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished” (Doherty, 2014).

Now I’m not here to say that social media is the only reason polarization is increasing, there are plenty of other factors that we could discuss. But it is clear that social media does play a role.

There were two main ways I focused on social media’s polarizing effect, these certainly aren’t the only ways social media affects us politically or otherwise, but they are two notable ways. They are through availability of information, and echo chambers.

Firstly, availability of information. This is pretty straightforward: social media gives us greater access to information and at a greater volume, this encourages us to be more politically involved, and as a result, we tend to float to one side of the spectrum. This makes sense, because it happens with most other things: you learn about something, and as you do you form an opinion about that subject. You can learn more about this concept here.

The second way social media leads to polarization that I discussed was the concept of echo chambers. If you pay much attention to politics and social media you’ve probably heard this term. Echo chambers are “environment[s] in which somebody encounters only opinions and beliefs similar to their own and does not have to consider alternatives” (Oxford Learner Dictionary). Social media is built to create echo chambers. The algorithms are designed to suggest content that it thinks you’d like, so the more involved you are with one side of the political spectrum, the more your suggestions will reflect that side. It’s easy to see how only seeing one side of an argument would make an individual sympathetic to that side, and unable to see or understand the other side of the argument. Here is a study that discusses this idea in greater depth.

So what is to be done about it? Well, other than getting rid of all social media and living in a hut in rural Peru, I don’t think there’s much you can do to avoid the current political climate. But you can be a responsible part of fixing this issue. You can be more open to other ideas, willing to discuss things across the aisle, and be welcoming to people that disagree with you.

Online, you can diversify your feeds. Instead of unfollowing your politically active friend from the other side of the political spectrum, you can take the time to read their posts and consider their ideas. Note, this doesn’t mean embracing negativity. If someone is constantly trying to start fights, unable to have a discussion, or is otherwise toxic, you have no need to follow or interact with them. But for everyone else out there, embrace ideas that aren’t your own. Before your texting thumbs start commenting angry responses, or you hit the “mute posts” button, take a read, consider the ideas, and compare them to your own, without needing to dehumanize or antagonize the person who made the post. Not only will you avoid anger, frustration, and the risk of losing a friend, but you’ll be able to contribute to a more intelligent, healthy, and inclusive discourse. Heck, you might even find things that you agree with.

 

Lessons in Flexibility

Lessons in Flexibility

I’ve never been a very flexible person. I remember in elementary school we would do the “v-sit reach” and I was always embarrassed watching my gymnast friends mindlessly fold in half while I struggled to get just one more inch (for those of you didn’t have experience with the v-sit reach and therefore don’t understand this story, consider yourselves lucky). I danced for several years growing up and would put so much effort into becoming more flexible, but alas, I never seemed to really improve. It started to feel like maybe I just wasn’t meant to be flexible and I soon accepted that this was okay.

However, being flexible has several important benefits. Flexibility helps you have fewer injuries, less pain and stiffness, greater posture and balance, and an increased sense of physical and mental relaxation. These are things I could greatly benefit from. I’ve continued to stretch, engage in yoga practice, etc. since elementary school, yet I wouldn’t consider myself to be “flexible”.

Flash forward to 2020. I’m teaching a class in-person at BYU, seeing clients, planning a wedding, and trying to navigate family and holidays in the midst of a pandemic. Although it is a really different kind of flexibility than the v-sit reach, 2020 has taught me valuable lessons in the benefits of being mentally and emotionally flexible. I am absolutely a planner, so 2020 has thrown me for a loop in many ways. Having to juggle using Zoom for clients and teaching, not having a clear picture for what my wedding will look like, being away from family for the holidays, etc. has been challenging. However, what this year has been is a beautiful and necessary lesson in flexibility for me.

A few months ago, Jen wrote a blog describing what mental flexibility is and what it looks like (link to blog post). She discusses this as a key part of resilience. I want to build on this blog and talk about why this is beneficial for us. As with physical flexibility, mental and emotional flexibility have huge benefits. I think this pandemic has taught me lessons in flexibility that I will carry with me forever as long as I keep practicing. Here are some of the ways I see flexibility as beneficial, as experienced myself!

Fewer Injuries; Less Stiffness and Pain

Although I wouldn’t consider myself to be a “rigid” person. My default is absolutely not easy-breezy. As 2020 has taught me lesson after lesson on flexibility, I have recognized that being more mentally flexible has allowed me to feel less distress when things don’t turn out the way I plan. At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a trip to Hawaii planned with friends. We soon realized that this just wouldn’t be possible as Hawaii shut its borders. I remember just crying and feeling so disappointed in my plans being cancelled. Throughout the pandemic, we all have faced disappointments both large and small. Those that are flexible can still feel disappointed but do not necessarily have to view these disappointments as “the end of the world.” The last 8 months have been so stretching that increased flexibility has been the natural outcome. The more I have learned to be flexible both emotionally and mentally, the less pain I have experienced as plans have needed to shift. I have become much less rigid in my thinking and planning as a result. Flexible mindsets really allow us to sidestep debilitating and staggering mental “injuries”. 

Greater Posture and Balance

Increasing in flexibility over the past several months has also allowed me to more fully embrace balance. The pandemic has forced me to embrace more balance and less rigidity as my routines have completely had to adjust. With the pandemic I’ve learned to prioritize more time with people around me, engaging in types of movement that bring me joy, and making stillness an essential part of my experience. When we set out with rigid expectations, even subtle shifts in our plans can cause us to stumble and throw us off balance. To use an eating recovery example, when we are rigid around food and/or exercise it oftentimes becomes difficult—seemingly impossible—to adjust our behaviors. Something like a pandemic, with gyms shutting down, working from home, grocery shopping becoming more involved, etc. can throw our entire systems out of whack if we haven’t developed the skill of mental and emotional flexibility. When we are flexible, we embrace balance, recognizing the time and season for all things in our lives.

Increased Mental and Physical Relaxation

Flexibility can lead to greater mental and physical relaxation. Yes, it’s known that twisting yourself up into a pretzel doing a consistent yoga practice is supposed to bring you inner peace, but cultivating better mental flexibility also helps bring about a sense of peace and relaxation. Mental and emotional flexibility allows you to rely upon yourself, knowing that whatever comes your way you will be able to meet head on. Although the unknown may still feel scary at time, mental and emotional flexibility allows you to be more relaxed about things not needing to go a certain way. Although building up your mental and emotional flexibility skills may seem challenging and uncomfortable at first (just as building up your physical flexibility is), the relaxation and calm that comes from knowing you are able to meet the challenges ahead of you truly brings about an deep sense of peace.

So, how are you working on your mental and emotional flexibility? Have you been exposed to lessons of flexibility whether you wanted to be or not in 2020? How has an increased sense of flexibility helped you as you’ve navigated this year?

 

Commuting Musings

Commuting Musings

As you probably know by now, I got married almost a year ago (!!), and it’s been an adventure. We’ve survived a global pandemic, living with my parents and navigating our life together while he is a Student Athlete. (more…)

Regular Cleanings

Regular Cleanings

I had the unfortunate pleasure of recently helping my little brother clean his college apartment. His contract was up, which means everything needed to be cleaned for the ominous “white glove check.” (more…)

Good Grief

Good Grief

Since the beginning of the year, I have been studying and preparing to become a certified thanatologist. (Thanatologists are experts in the field of dying and bereavement. Don’t worry if you haven’t ever heard of them – I was in your shoes two years ago! I met a thanatologist during a grief training seminar and I was like, “wait- that’s a thing? Sign me up!”)  While this isn’t an area of work that many people get excited about – I really deeply connect with it.  (more…)

Lessons Learned from Wiping Out

Lessons Learned from Wiping Out

Recently I had the opportunity to attend one of my best friend’s weddings in Los Angeles. The wedding was originally meant to take place in May, but due to COVID-19, was pushed back. Unbeknownst to us, the virus would still be causing problems. I’m not sure a mask-clad wedding party is exactly what the bride had in mind, but it was still wonderful to be able to celebrate with her. She has taught me many lessons on flexibility, working through grief that comes with something like a global pandemic, and the importance of focusing on loving one another and being grateful for relationships. She is an absolute rockstar! (more…)

Lessons From Quarantine

Lessons From Quarantine

2020 has been a heavy year. I don’t need to point out all the ways, because I think we’ve seen it everywhere, but I’ve been feeling heavy for a few months. I’ve been giving myself grace, but I am tired of feeling this way. Just when I think America is coming together (quarantine), something massive comes up and the polarization is unbelievable (race issues/politics). (more…)