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Opinion: Our mode of media consumption matters

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In the age of globalized communications, it’s often easy to overlook just how isolated our media sources are.

With the rise of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and the continued dominance of the mass media by well-equipped corporations such as CNN and 21st Century Fox, one might assume that the breadth of options available for your typical American would lead to an era of political enlightenment and discussion. Instead, we as a society have ventured precariously close to becoming a generation inside an echo chamber.  

As the diversity and availability of American media has grown, so too has the tendency to flock toward ideological bastions where users are safe from dissenting opinions. The evidence of this is far-reaching and can be seen everywhere, from the increased polarization of our politics to the expansion of safe spaces on our own college campuses. More than ever before, conservatives stick solely to right-wing news outlets, while liberals rely on their left-wing counterparts.

This stifling of disagreement and discourse is not only unreflective of our nation’s ideals — it’s inherently dangerous for our democracy’s future. As like-minded people and the forums they use increasingly serve only to reinforce pre-existing opinions, never daring to dissent or challenge one another, we all stand to lose in the debate of ideas.

To grow both as a student and a person is to change, and we can never expect to adapt and evolve when our viewpoints are never truly contested by unlike-minded peers.

By locking ourselves away from the ideas of the outside world, we’ve come to grow bitter of those who disagree with us and are incapable of showing sympathy for challenging new concepts.

All is not lost, however — Gallup’s findings on American’s Trust in Media show younger Americans remain less likely than their parents to trust the media. While this has worrying connotations, this distrust can nonetheless lead to some meaningful progress.

In a day and age where everyone with a smartphone can broadcast events live, a healthy skepticism of the information we consume is critical in deciphering the signal from the noise.

It is important to acknowledge and account for the bias of the favorite websites, outlets and communities we frequent for our news. Only after we’ve successfully acknowledged our problem can we move toward the real, workable solution: diversifying our media sources.

It is no longer just advisable for an American student (and voter) to broaden his/her personal horizon — it’s an inherent duty we have as members of a modern democracy. In the era of soundbite journalism and an increasingly narrow political environment, a healthy dose of difference in our media outlets is essential in fighting off disinformation.

Following pundits on Twitter who only broadcast right-wing conspiracies or exclusively reading from magazines and newspapers that cater solely to left-leaning ideals disarms us for the structured debate that’s necessary in a Western democracy.

If we are to expect to recover from the age of polarization, the first step is to depolarize ourselves. The erosion of the political middle is a warning sign that the narrowing of our media sources and intensifying of their ideological commitments has real-world consequences.

I urge conservatives to consider occasionally turning off Fox News and liberals to shy away from the Huffington Post — our future may depend on it.

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