Will Jordan-Cooley

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Getting Exposure to Other Points of View

February 17, 2017

The United States has a President that doesn't seem to value speaking the truth or believe that it's necessary for him to run the country. Being truthful certainly wasn't necessary for him to be elected. Politifact rated 70% of Donald Trump's rated public statements as either false, mostly false, or "pants on fire."

 

How is that possible? I have to believe that those that voted for him wouldn't have done so if they'd known he was lying more times than not. After the election, many people blamed "fake news." That fits into a more general problem of echo chambers, or the idea that people tend to only get exposed to information that confirms their own world views. Our friends generally share our own opinions or we wouldn't keep them around long. We select TV channels that we enjoy listening to and nobody really likes listening to things that they don't agree with. 

 

There seems some natural human impulses that create the problem but then, the technologies that disseminate our media seem to make it worse. This morning, when I went to YouTube for a bit of breakfast entertainment, YouTube was suggested a bunch of videos that I might like to watch. However, everything was a variation on what I'd seen before. There was a section for Daily Show reruns and Stephen Colbert. There were some professional Go games and a bunch of new NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. In this hugely diverse, universe of video content, I only see the barest cross-section of a slice.

 

YouTube isn't really doing anything wrong. They're just trying to show me videos that they think I'll like. Similarly, Facebook is just showing us what our friends are posting. However, they just make it extremely easy to consume information that is just variations on what we've consumed before and it never challenges us to think in new and different ways.

 

So. I searched "Islam" in the YouTube search bar. I got a video called "Is Islam a Religion of Peace" from a then unknown source, Prager University. The speaker in the video told a personal story of coming to the West from Islamic Somalia and her belief that Islam needed to be reformed. The video was well-produced and I was thoroughly entertained. Then looking at the related videos listed to the right, I noticed that they were all from the same producer; a treasure trove of videos expressing conservative opinions on a variety of issues, including things I'd never considered issues because I didn't realize that a bunch of people held strong opinions to the contrary of mine.

I'd stumbled into another side of YouTube that I'd never seen before. Honestly, I'd worry about putting a kid down in front of these videos. I'd worry that they'd be totally convinced by everything that they heard. Personally, I could sift through what was presented, appreciate some statements as valid and question others. However, I'd be afraid that a kid might turn into a Republican. But then, a conservative would probably feel the same about their kid watching John Oliver.

 

What I really want is something that will show me a piece of content beside another that is offering a diametrically opposed but equally well-presented argument. Does something like this exist? I don't know of it. How would you go about curating the content? How would you convince users that you were fairly representing each point of view?

For example, Prager University has a video on the wage gender gap with the provocative title, "There is No Gender Gap." Strong arguments, valid points and some faulty logic.

I want this video to sit beside John Oliver's segment on the same topic. Again, a strong argument mixed with both valid points and some faulty logic.

 


After watching both, I feel like I have a much better handle on the issue and could even suggest some policy changes that would appease both camps and better address the heart of the issue.

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