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Echo chamber update: What you missed if you live in a bubble

Cyber war has a new weapon: Your smartphone
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I have decried the effects of “echo chamber” news consumption for years. Depending on the election, too many voters from X party are left feeling “How did this happen?” when the results stream in, and that surprise has a lot to do with where they get their information. 

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss is perhaps the most egregious example of this phenomenon; voters and pollsters alike were stunned. Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat also left millions of supporters scratching their heads, but that also was largely because Trump and high-ranking Republicans peddled the conspiracy theory that a free and fair election was somehow stolen. (It wasn’t.) 

There has been a lot of ink spilled on the journalistic and media failures that lead to such moments, but what about the failures of news consumers themselves? Just looking back at the past two weeks of top news stories featured on either side’s top media highlights why the left and right are so firmly cocooned in their own worlds — and why it’s so dangerous. 

Let’s look at some of what you missed if you live in an echo chamber. 

On the GOP side, two-thirds of Republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen and it may come as a big surprise to them that Trump lost Arizona again when a Republican-led review of 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County actually found 261 more votes for Joe Biden. Trump allies wasted nearly $6 million on the effort, which surely came as a bit of a wake-up call that their unfounded assertions of fraud are, indeed, unfounded. The results didn’t stop Trump from falsely claiming that he won Maricopa County at a rally on Saturday and pressing Texas to do an audit of four counties, even though he won the state handily. The Big Lie remains alive and well.

The new book by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa — “Peril” — has created quite the buzz. But one of the biggest shock moments regarding the Jan. 6 Capitol breach doesn’t seem to have penetrated the GOP psyche. It turns out one of Trump’s closest legal advisers, John Eastman, prepared a memorandum to serve as guidance for former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election. 

It included plans for Pence to put aside electoral votes in crucial states such as Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Michigan under the false assertion they had sent alternate Trump electors. And Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) were going to ensure the filibuster remained intact so they could allow states “more time to weigh in to formally support the alternate slate of electors.” This cockamayme plan all hinged on Pence going along with it and not asking for permission, which we know he didn’t do after seeking advice from Dan Quayle.

One of the biggest dangers of an echo chamber approach to news consumption is how bad the information is when it comes to COVID-19. As the New York Times’ David Leonhardt points out, in counties where Trump got at least 70 percent of the vote, 47 out of every 100,000 people have died from the virus, as opposed to counties where Trump won less than 32 percent and only 10 of every 100,000 have died. We now have a pandemic of politics. What’s more, Biden’s masking and vaccine mandate policies are working. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released data showing that students in schools with masking requirements had a lower chance of contracting the virus. Private businesses such as Delta Airlines and hospitals such as New York Presbyterian, which reported that only 250 of 48,000 staffers did not comply, are showing how effective they are at getting folks vaccinated — and saving lives as a result.

Liberals aren’t safe from the effects of echo chamber consumption. As the jarring photo of Border Patrol officials on horseback corralling Haitian migrants continues to get a lot of attention — including comments from Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that it was reminiscent of scenes from slavery — the photographer who took the photo has spoken out in defense of Border Patrol officials. Paul Ratje said, “I’ve never seen them whip anyone. He was swinging it … but it can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the picture.” 

That certainly flies in the face of the liberal mainstream narrative, as does Mayorkas’s acknowledgement to Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace that 12,000 Haitian migrants have been released into the United States and thousands more could follow. He refused to call the current migration numbers a “flood,” even when there were up to 30,000 migrants in a makeshift camp under the Del Rio, Texas, bridge just last week. Sounds pretty record-setting to me.

The Biden administration has been fighting an uphill battle against a bipartisan rebuke of their Afghanistan withdrawal plan. Roughly two-thirds of Americans oppose how it was executed. But one aspect of the debacle that hasn’t stuck in the liberal psyche at the level I’d expect was the U.S. drone attack in Kabul that allegedly killed an ISIS-K terrorist — but, in fact, took out 10 civilians including seven children. Chief of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie has said that an “investigation now concludes the strike was a tragic mistake,” but he still stood behind the intelligence. This avoidable tragedy naturally raises questions about the quality of our intelligence and our practices of using drone warfare. It should be more prominent in the conversation among liberal circles. 

The COVID issue works both ways and this is hugely evident in the debate over natural immunity. As a vaccine proponent, I welcome the White House’s push. But there is another side to the story: natural immunity. As Dr. Marty Makary points out in the Washington Post, there is tremendous evidence that natural immunity from having contracted the virus is as good, if not better, than vaccine-induced immunity. There’s a 700,000-person study out of Israel that backs this claim and a study of health care workers by the Cleveland Clinic that showed those who were infected did not get re-infected. Against the backdrop of the spike in breakthrough cases, that kind of data should matter. And like the possibility that COVID-19 came from a lab versus a wet market in Wuhan, China, these topics must be open for discussion. They can save lives, too. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list but is, instead, meant to serve as a snapshot of our echo chamber problem in America. It’s a big one. And it’s one that could be solved quite easily by greater focus on making ourselves better informed and visiting the opposing side’s bubble more often. You may just learn something. At the very least, the results of the next election night may come as less of a surprise. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Chris Wallace Donald Trump Echo chamber Hillary Clinton hyper-partisanship Joe Biden Left-wing politics Mike Pence News media Rand Paul right-wing ideology Ted Cruz

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