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