The specter of the mainstream media is worrisome and even more so when hearing about the growing concentration of media under a few corporations. There are also issues of misinformation and the masquerading of opinionated articles as “journalistic” pieces, which lack virtues of ethics found in true journalism. It becomes difficult to fairly determine reliable information among the variety of news media sources. At least in the US our major news stations are appropriately classified as news/entertainment. So, what are ways that we can possibly regain trust in shared media sources so as to ensure at the very least that everyone is engaging with a shared set of facts?
Gallup polls show that trust in the mass media is at an historically point, with only 14% of Republicans reporting trust in mass media bringing down the national average level of trust. While trust has declined among Democrats and Independents over the last couple of decades the precipitous drop was seen in 2015, as Trump’s candidacy specifically targeted journalists and news companies as being enemies against the people. The greater issues include a willingness for politicians to engage in incendiary polarization and that large portions of the electorate are receptive to these messages. But these observations fall short of finding a way to reengage polarized audiences.
Avoiding news bubbles is inherently difficult because ultimately it is up to each individual viewer to choose what news they wish to view. Tendencies for single outlet consumption increase the formation of polarized perspectives since your beliefs are confirmed by homogenous sources. One of the few options to increase empathy and interest in differing life experiences is to engage more people, hopefully some of which might introduce new perspectives. But this engagement has to be meaningful and consistent to have any potential effect. So, it might be important to talk with and share more stories with family members on social media who might otherwise only reinforce misinformation they see and share within their own bubbles.
One idea that I believe people should adopt is the idea of equitable skepticism. Primarily this means that while reading, listening, or engaging with news sources or opinions the individual should be fairly skeptical. But this also means that they should be skeptical of ideas they agree with as well, not just those in opposition to their beliefs. This process of critical analysis will allow a moderate level of deeper engagement with ideas, allowing more information which can help increase clarity. It could also lead an individual to encounter even more diverse ideas and help introduce them to new people. These new people might be able to better explain concepts to individuals in personal and unique ways, such as if they share similar backgrounds so share similar initial confusion. The idea of equitable skepticism embodies the idea of good faith, if in a roundabout way, by making the assumption that sources are trying to convince them of some idea. This plays into the current level of paranoia that seems high but is a process that would allow more research and engagement, ultimately allowing for the opportunity to communicate more with other people which should be the goal to grow trust in a polarized environment.
Another good habit that an individual could adopt is something like a 3-page rule. This rule would basically force people to limit themselves to the first three pages of a google search while also forcing people to only open three different websites in one sitting. The first part of the rule is meant to limit deep searches which can become misleading. Typically deep searches are done when people are looking for information that canconfirm their beliefs. The second part of the rule is meant to prevent fatigue and a gluttony of information, which can better allow an individual to fairly process information they read before they engage further. This technique requires restraint and will also help reduce the allure, or at the very least quantity, of reading articles that are solely meant to be eye catching but not informative. Over time this habit will be less necessary as people change their behavior and learn how to search for and engage with informative and reputable news/opinionated websites.
The last two ideas that I offered are primarily for people acting at the individual level and specifically when they are alone. There are other sources and organizations which emphasize group level engagement and techniques for improved communication, such as Braver Angels and Civic Dinners. Yet while they are inherently important, I think their reach is limited to those that are interested and willing to engage with the programs. This misses many people who have grown to be increasingly polarized from their choices of media sources and attention to politicians willing to act in a partisan manner. To be able to slowly resolve this it requires a greater push for increasing digital media literacy. Even more importantly it requires every person to slowly begin the process on their own. Over time as more people are able fairly question their news sources and feel comfortable reaching out for other online news resources, they then might be able to consider engaging in larger communities again beyond the internet. Ultimately this is the goal where people are willing to enter into community environments with people who might hold divergent ideas yet still feel welcoming towards each other, allowing for ideas and perspectives to freely flow between people which leads to greater tolerance and understanding.
What are some serious ways we as individuals can foster an environment for differing ideas that are fair, respectful, and trusting. There may not be a singular answer, but I think the simplest way is to recapture inclusive public communities, both digitally and in real life, where people are able to engage each other. But before this can be widespread, we have to encourage individuals to change their own behaviors in how they interact with online media. This would introduce everyone into varying ideas and life experiences and generate interest in new perspectives. As different ideas are encountered individuals are naturally curious and want to learn more about their friendly community member. While it may seem strange to engage with people who seem to share nothing in common it is probably the same for everyone else who feels uncertain, leaving a grand opportunity for everyone to learn something new. Most importantly this is all to avoid deeper cycles of polarization, where we can see in the US that there are broad levels of distrustamong the out-groups which (for the most part) are simply other people who are as certain about their beliefs as you are of yours.
“Who Owns the Media?” https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/democracyondeadline/mediaownership.html
 “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low” https://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx
 “About one-fifth of Democrats and Republicans get political news in a kind of media bubble” https://www.journalism.org/2020/03/04/about-one-fifth-of-democrats-and-republicans-get-political-news-in-a-kind-of-media-bubble/
 McCoy, Jennifer and Somer, Murat. “Overcoming Polarization.” Journal of Democracy, Volume 32, Number 1: pp. 6-19
Hello, this is a very interesting topic and I enjoyed reading your potential solutions at the end. It is extremely worrisome knowing that the media is owned by a few major corporations. Unfortunately, I do not think the average individual is willing to go outside of their news bubble. The intense polarization in the United States has only widened the gap of different information available depending on your political leanings. Along with that, the algorithms present on social media and in search engines make it difficult to find sources with different information and different perspectives. It is important to interact with family members or an online community and share individual experiences because I agree with you that it can lead to a shift in perspective. Otherwise, I think it is difficult to put the burden of information on the individual. Most people are not interested in politics and will take whatever they hear or are socialized to believe and carry that mindset with them for the rest of their life. While I hope that people will take more of an interest in searching for factual news content with different perspectives, I believe there should be more pressure on corporations.
Social media companies allow the spread of misinformation. They must take a more active role in ensuring factual information is spread. These companies allow extremism to fester and propaganda to be spread. Without change in these companies I believe it is difficult to see a future where individuals can easily and voluntarily seek out different perspectives.
I think your article highlights ways for people who want to understand different perspectives and that is important. It is essential that partisanship does not continue to grow for the sake of our democracy and these steps along with other changes can potentially curb this intense polarization.
Auston, I think it is important that you highlight media trends and the change in perception that the public has had regarding the media in the past two to three decades. A fair and free media is an essential building block of a healthy and strong democracy. As you mention, U.S. major media outlets have gotten away from being fair, something I would argue is driven by multiple things.
U.S. media operates in a saturated market and, due to the corporate nature of our mainstream especially television media, they compete primarily for viewers. As such, many of their shows are less news reporting and more entertainment and headline grabbing, as you mention. This is extremely unfortunate and detrimental because it creates echo chambers and leads to a constant state of outrage.
I am a strong supporter of public broadcasting such as National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcast System (PBS) because their reporting, to me, seems the most balanced and matter of fact. There are those who still accuse NPR and PBS of having liberal slants, and I would agree that some shows definitely do, but their news reporting is balanced and some of the best we have in the U.S. today.
Briefly, I want also to touch on another issue which I think is eroding public trust in the media and that is social media. A growing portion of the U.S. public receives a majority of its news from Twitter and Facebook, as well as other social media platforms. Unfortunately, social media companies are literally engineered to provide you more, similar content. This inherently creates information echo chambers that erode public discourse.
To close, eroded public discourse leads to greater polarization which weakens democracy.
Excellent blog post, Auston!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog because you incorporated a few tips on how to depolarize within. During the semester, I attended a few Braver Angels events, and I can understand why it is helpful to be in these group engagements. I found it to be very eye-opening! Hearing different perspectives on a topic while in a safe environment opens doors to dialogue.
I try to stay out of my social media bubble when it comes to politics, and I use the 3-page rule without even noticing. I hope more people pick up this habit because it will save you some embarrassment at times. It can be hard to realize, but your browser knows what you want to see. Therefore it is your responsibility to find more than one side of the story.
Hello Auston, what an interesting read I thoroughly enjoyed hearing some of your ideas of how to depolarize within, though as stated in Bridgids comment above I do not believe in this day and age that people garner the want to venture outside of their political comfort zones when it comes to who and where they intake information. From participating in the Depolarizing Within session with Braver Angels I myself realized the lack of steps I take when hearing information. Many times I tend to draw quick info from the internet and research as we all know it takes time and effort and that is something that most people do not want to give especially when it is not pertaining to them. Putting out lies on the media is easy, finding the truth on them is hard and these big corporations really should take more measure in fact checking people everyday people will not.
I really enjoyed reading this blog! I like the parts where you add little depolarizing tips. I also like that you highlighted media trends and the change in how to public views social media within the last 20 years. U.S media does have a lot of detrimental effects as you point out and does lead to states of people being outraged. Social media companies allow misinformation to spread along with algorithms that present social media differently for everybody which makes finding certain unbiased information difficult. I remember attending a Braver Angels event this semester and I was a little shocked to come to the realization that everyone has their little ways of polarizing and that it takes an active effort to stop ourselves from doing these things. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people are capable or willing to go outside of their news bubble.
Hi, Auston! You have a relevant blog post here very relevant since we are in a social media age, where information can easily be accessed; however, social media can become a state weapon in proliferating fake news to their own advantage. Thus, we have to stay vigilant in deciphering the truth.
As a communication major, I agree with your tips on depolarization. I agree that people should be skeptical about the news they see on their timelines by verifying it first. People should engage in educational discussions or political discourse as it would help process the information they have gathered from the mass media.
Although I have contention with what you have said that “it is up to each individual viewer to choose what news they wish to view,” some people would rely on the caption or news title only; and some media companies would frame their news title depending on their political stances. To add, populists would threaten those media companies who expose them; thus, these media companies are forced to filter the truth.
With that, even though we are presented with different views and opinions all over social media, it is important to be open-minded and to decipher the truth. We may not have the power to control the news popping in our timeline, what we can do is fact-check, google it. We must really start within our vicinities such as family or friends to engage them in political discourse.