This will sound sarcastic, but honestly I never got accused of being influenced by an “echo chamber” until after I moved to India to work as a journalist, and after making a deliberate effort to read non-white and non-male writers.
To review, an “echo chamber” is the phenomenon where a person only exposes themselves to views they already have, and the more online they are the more they deeply entrench their own beliefs/biases.
Whatever people think of my views, objectively speaking, I’m not a product of an echo chamber. The accusation is laughable.
I read Conservative media. I used to be conservative. For years I kept tabs on the heart of Conservative Canada by reading the FB updates of my cousin’s husband, a former speech writer for Harper who is currently strategic director of communications for Doug Ford.
This guy has defended Trump, Breitbart, rejoiced when NFL planned to shut out Colin Kaepernick, Betsy Devos, and more. He once accused me of being in a social media echo chamber, and has since defriended me from FB. I cannot help listen to Ford without being deeply aware that he hired a man with these views to communicate for him.
I read the National Post for years–I know the work of Rex Murphy, Blatchford, the Kays, Conrad Black, Robyn Urback, Lorne Gunter, and the rest. I used to see the Sun’s Sue Ann Levy at city hall when I wrote about that circus, and ran into Tarek Fatah in an elevator in Film City. I read (hate-read) Wente at the Globe.
I can’t read Ezra Levant on Twitter because he blocked me, but I’ve seen this former National Post editor’s Rebel segments and read enough of his writing, from his early days at Maclean’s. I read Barbara Amiel, Conrad Black’s wife and the former wife of George Jonas, a small-C conservative voice I read fondly in the National Post for years.
I worked for Zee Media, basically India’s Fox News. Sudhir Chaudhary was my editor in chief (I was on Web and he was TV, and mostly does Hindi news, but still, I sat in story meetings and am acquainted with his thought). I have read/watched enough Jordan Petersen and have talked with him before.
I had to read US Conservative media in the summer of 2016 when researching for a TV show I was writing about Trump. I don’t read it all the time now because it’s exhausting and time-consuming, but I know the work of Ben Shapiro, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Bari Weiss at the NYT, Sam Harris. I used to read Krauthammer, and still read former Bush speech writer David Frum.
I was in the belly of the beast of India’s Conservative news machine. When demonetization was announced, we got an order not to write anything critical about it.
The BJP announced Demonetization on literally on the night of the US election, and like everyone I was consumed by Trump news. While I had reservations about demonetization right away I thought my fellow Indians on the desk were better suited to pronounce on it than me. Maybe this is me rationalizing a moment where I should have quit on principle, out of disgust for the flagrant conflict of interest–the owner of my station is an independent member from Haryana of the BJP, the ruling national party.
But the point is, I’ve seen first-hand how money influences/determines coverage of economic policies. Even without telling this story, my station ran a disgraceful commercial that promoted not WION, but the government policy! Imagine CBC running a commercial promoting Trudeau–that’s what my station did.
When people claim that Postmedia is affiliated with the conservative party here in Canada, it means they informally do what in India is done formally. It’s not an accident that Tarek Fatah writes for the Sun here and appears on Zee TV.
What become undeniably clear to me during my time in journalism is the extent to which economic reports are deliberately and shockingly cooked, both by ostensibly neutral economic institutions like the IMF and by journalists covering the industry.
I had a good talk with John Perkins, the author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, who for 10 years negotiated in backrooms with the leaders of Central American countries, unofficially but decidedly on behalf of American business interests. Perkins was recruited by the NSA, and his book outlines the basic process:
- Corruption: Offer leaders money and perks if they give major contracts to American businesses
- Propaganda: Tell the leaders, we will cook the books/stats so that your citizens believe (wrongly) you will benefit the country.
- Threaten: Cooperate, otherwise, see examples where national leaders were removed by coup, to be replaced by cooperative leaders.
- Threaten more: Cooperate, because if you don’t play ball and a coup doesn’t work, the US will simply assassinate you or take power by force
People in Toronto seem to have no awareness that Free Market ideology is an ideology. It’s assumed that the current stage of consumerism/capitalism arises here naturally, like lakes do, that the Free Market’s global success is do to its innately superior properties, and not to external pressure applied by wealthy people.
They think the Market is a non-human entity, an omniscient force that somehow distributes the right money and jobs to the right people based on a complex but merit-based algorithm. That it somehow weighs people’s personality, skills, responsibilities, and other criteria and allots to them the salary they deserve.
I believed something like this. But it’s total horseshit. Of course the control of money has human fingerprints all over it. It’s incredibly naive to believe that ultra rich people simply entrust their fortunes to fate.
Really, they acquire and guard it ferociously–there are entire industries that exist so that people with immense wealth can use either legal, quasi-legal or illegal means to shelter their fortunes from tax authorities in offshore accounts. Money buys politicians or media influence. People know this–every pseudo-sophisticated political observation is based on the wonderful quip “An honest politician is one who when he’s bought, stays bought.” But I suspect most people downplay how much this of a role this plays in politics.
I had a fascinating conversation with a longtime Canadian journalist who mentored me, who said that the Globe and Mail is basically a money-losing entity that only exists so the owners can frame the national discussion. Obviously they’d rather make money than lose it, but even if it bleeds money, it’s a very worthwhile investment, and anyway it’s only a small part of the owner’s portfolio. The Globe’s target audience, according to internal documents from the Globe, is people who make over $100,000 annually.
The Sun and National Post–2 of 4 of Canada’s major daily newspapers–are the Conservative Party’s low brow and high brow blogs, respectively. But even the Globe is not there to expose white collar crime or anything that seriously undermines how the Free Market.
These newspapers work on the assumption that the grotesque and ever-growing income inequality is by definition justified because the market dictates it, and to interfere with the market is akin to sticking a wrench in Nature.
While social conservatism is often berated in public and in media, when it comes to money journalism in Canada and really everywhere has a right wing bias. Look at a newspaper: there are entire sections devoted to Cars/Driving, Travel, Movies, Sports, and now Cannabis–these papers will neglect some life-and-death issues (jailing, housing crises, police brutality) while reporting on subjects that might be interesting but are only only important because money is concentrated there.
These are complicated topics, oversimplified here for my purposes. It’s impossible to talk fully about the Market and how money works without talking about race and gender, and that’s also beyond the scope of this little article.
I have an acute sense that my FB friends despise my political posts (I do too! I swear, politics is miserable and depressing). But my views are in the minority in the broader community, too: Toronto elected Tory and Ontario elected Doug Fucking Ford.
So, if my views are unpopular, doesn’t that suggest my views were arrived at despite the echo chamber?
Isn’t it possible that the people and media institutions with long histories of promoting the status quo are the creators of the echo chamber?
There’s a concept called “Vertical Integration” coined by an old sociology professor of mine. The idea is this: If a theory is incompatible with other types of accepted explanations of the world, it is likely bogus–it’s not enough that the Bible says that the Bible is true, because it’s contradicted by so many interdependent branches of science. This is begging the question 101. The more a theory tallies with different kinds of thought, the more buttressed it is and the more likely it is to be true.
The Bible is a self-contained echo chamber. I put it that conservative politics is drifting further and further into the same kind of realm.
Trump calls any credible media report that doesn’t flatter him “Fake News”, and a hostile country flooded social media with fake accounts (“bots”) that pathologically promote Trump, who has created an entirely alternate reality for his followers to believe in because his views are so incompatible with the actual world: Isn’t it possible that *this* is the echo chamber?
The left is frequently entreated to watch 4 hours of Jordan Petersen videos to see that his latest misogynist quote was deliberately misquoted to smear him. I’d like to ask those on the right to do a type of mental back flip, a very hard thing to do and no small ask, but really, ask yourself: “am I the one in the echo chamber?”
PS: I am happy to discuss any of these broad topics with more nuanced with anybody, privately or in the comments or whatever. I do think it’s important to be approachable: Sometimes my writing comes off snarky because the truth is I can be a little shit, but I do get bored talking to basic liberals and find these and other conversations very fascinating.