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Burgess: How Can We Pierce Each Other's Information Bubbles?

If we want others to change, we will have to change ourselves first

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As much as I enjoy stating my opinion in public, I don't seek out confrontation. In fact, in my personal life I do as much as I can to avoid it altogether. Instead, I've advocated for forgoing discussing politics at events like family gatherings. I feel that, in general, focusing on turning out those who already agree with you at the polls is a more effective strategy.

But, sometimes, these clashes of worldviews are inevitable. And, in those moments, I often feel utterly helpless. It seems we often come to the table with not just conflicting viewpoints, but conflicting facts.

When I first heard about the internet back in junior high school, it was being touted as a unifying force, which would bring us all together. But, in practice, it has allowed us to create our own friendly bubbles. I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else. Social media, especially, has allowed us to tailor our digital environments so we see only what we already agree with. I frequently unfollow people on Facebook with whom I don't agree.

This is the easy path. It doesn't require challenging others or ourselves. It also doesn't change the situation we're in.

This was on my mind as I listened to a Saturday, May 18 episode of the podcast Trumpcast. It featured a former right-wing internet troll named David Weissman. During the interview, he told of his ideological transformation.

The only reason he ever began to change his mind at all was because of the celebrities he trolled on Twitter actually responded and began a long-running conversation.

“I accused Sarah Silverman and liberals as a whole (since conservative pundits and media do this) of caring more about Illegals than American Veterans,” he wrote in a June 5, 2018 essay for Forward. “To my surprise, Sarah Silverman replied, and the resulting dialogue was respectful. Months went by and we interacted more on Twitter on issues like gun reform, DACA, and abortion. Not only did I learn from her, but I learned from her followers who showed me why they fight for these rights. I discovered sources with journalistic integrity which debunked the lies and generalizations that conservative media often report. I slowly began reevaluating my principles.”

This sort of thing takes a long time and requires a lot of hard work. And, there's no guarantee you'll be successful, either. But, the only way to pierce someone else's bubble is to be the bigger person and reach outside of your own.

“Find the people you think are undeserving of your compassion and give it to them,” former neo-Nazi Christian Picciolini  who has been a guest on Silverman's Netflix show, I Love You, America  often says. “Because they’re the ones who need it the most.”

Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at rburgess@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.

Writer - Local Government and Justice

My background is that I'm the fourth generation in my family to work as a journalist. I also have a degree from Indiana University in Elementary Education. My wife, Ash, and I have two children, Harper, 4, and Emerald, 1.