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Out of the Echo Chamber, by Adam Koppeser

I certainly wasn’t alone in being shocked on election night. And a week after the results, I know I’m not alone in finding them both difficult and surreal to process. I don’t have the answers as to why the vote swung so – almost laughably – far away from that safe, soft landing the polls predicted.

What I do have, now, is a better sense of how deeply I’ve underestimated the strength of anger in this country, and the amount of people it’s convinced to support a shouting billionaire for president.

It's been a tough week deciding how best to react to that – especially since every time I resolve to be empathetic and open to the people who’ve backed said billionaire, I see a half dozen new hate crimes pop up on my various feeds, acts of racism emboldened by the tone of his campaign.

And yet, I guarantee the people who voted for this man don’t see half of that; they literally do not see it because their social media feeds are as tailored and biased as mine are, and so have no reason to. They don’t see news of hate crimes; they see news of protester riots.

It’s always been easier to live in echo chambers, that’s not new – spending time with like-minded people, reading books that affirm our preexisting views. We’re all inherently a bit tribal like that. The bizarre thing is how much easier it is to live there in 2016, when information has never been so accessible, facts so easily checked, and differently-minded people so easily reached. Instead, we let the algorithms and cable news spin us a narrative cocoon that says: “No, that’s okay. You were already right.”

I was wrapped up in one, too. I watched Morning Joe over cereal before work for the eyerolls and eulogies for a campaign that’s now triumphant. I refreshed Nate Silver’s 538 polling site at work, right next to my Twitter tab. I probably followed polls on Twitter, just to be redundant.

And then last Tuesday, my political echo chamber – alongside scores of others – was loaded into an enormous cannon then blasted out to sea.

It feels strange, as a journalist, to feel so wrong about the big picture. The irony is, if I’d listened more to the people I’d interacted with as a local journalist and less to the other journalists trying to sell me the big picture, I might have gotten it. At my local paper last year, I got enough phone calls worried about Muslim influence, Chinese economic schemes or disrespectful protesters to know it’s not an isolated thing. Any time we posted an election story, one side was always far more vocal. They’re the side that won.

Getting outside the echo chamber is a harder and harder feat these days. But it's going to be especially necessary now.

Adam Koppeser is journalist and news editor, having worked and reported in Egypt, Delaware, and New York.

 

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