Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but I think we’ve finally hit rock bottom.
On Wednesday, January 6, shortly after 1 pm, thousands of Trump supporters gathered in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C, demanding evidence of Joe Biden’s victory in the recent presidential election. Now, unless they were hoping to find a scantron card or count each ballot by hand, I really can’t understand what they were hoping to find. But if it was attention, and a front-page photograph, they certainly found it.
Let me start by saying I’m extremely nervous about writing this article, and I mean “the night before three midterms” nervous.
“Why?” you ask. Great question.
On the personal side of things: I’m a white male, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re responsible for practically every problem going on in the world right now. It’s time we started listening to someone else.
It’s also people who look like me, dressed up in face paint and animal carcasses, who barged through the capitol doors, barbarically waving American and Confederate flags, smearing conspiracy theories and patriarchal bullshit through the halls of an otherwise beautiful building—all in the name of some narcissistic, spray-tanned lunatic (yeah, we know it’s not natural, Donald).
The other reason I was tentative on writing this article is because the power of the media is beginning to overwhelm its intentions. When a news article from the New York Times can reach millions of people, media outlets must be conscious of how their exposure of radical movements and extremist groups—such as the ones responsible for the riots on January 6—can perpetuate their growth. Just because you intend to criticize or demonize an ideology does not mean that everyone who reads your thoughts will do the same.
The attention that these conspiracies and movements have been given over the past week has radically showcased their ideologies, and while most relatively-sane people look upon them with disdain, some people may be drawn towards them—an attraction that would not have otherwise been fostered. I want to highlight that I am not proposing any sort of censorship but rather calling for attention to be drawn to the way in which media—and our curiosity—can give fuel to an otherwise smoldering fire. Perhaps, in times such as these, we must contain our curiosity, like pulling the oxygen from that fire.
This is not the only way in which the media had an effect on the events of last Wednesday. The political climate in the United States, and much of the western world, has been steadily becoming more antagonistic and hostile, leaving little room for healthy argumentation and constructive discussions.
In recent years, social media websites like Twitter and Reddit have become heavily politicized, and their users have begun fostering their political ideologies through news stories and trends. I should say that I have no problem with this. Seeing younger people engaging in political movements is the stuff you dream of. Yet, I worry that Twitter may not have “make sure users see the other side of the coin” and “make sure all information is factual and true” high up on their priority list.
This depersonalized environment has allowed people to curate their feeds to that which they already agree with, limiting any unsettling or confrontational opinions (I have no doubt that the media sites also have a hand in this). This effectively crystalizes their preexisting convictions and leaves little room for growth and evolution. Over long periods of time, confined to the same news outlets, your political ideologies become reinforced to a point where debating with the other side seems tiresome and useless. In turn, you write off anyone who disagrees with you and start to lose sight of your own blind spots.
There is a lack of confrontation going on, and I don’t mean confrontation between strangers—you can go on Twitter and find thousands of angry, name-calling critics—I mean a confrontation with ourselves. Social media sites like Twitter, which allow you to subscribe to certain ideologies and block others, have begun to deteriorate our political climate.
When we allow ourselves to exist within an echo chamber, without that voice of dispute however misguided it may be, we become too entrenched with our own thoughts and beliefs. A situation that becomes dangerously destructive, as the events on January 6 have shown.