Media Smarts

Balanced information diet

BalanceWant a balanced information diet? Here are some tools to help.

PolitiEcho is a Chrome browser extension that will analyze the political leanings of all your friends on Facebook as well as the political leanings of your newsfeed. Then it invites you to share the results on Facebook.  (If your's is as blue as mine, you may hesitate at that point.

If you're alarmed by the results, the only alternative in Facebook, besides getting new friends, is to improve the diversity of views in your newsfeed.  Happily, help is at hand.  Another browser extension, Escape Your Bubble,  seeds your Facebook feed with opposing political views, less the negative ranting that makes it so hard to stomach.

And if you're brave enough to wander outside the Facebook walled garden, here are two sites that do a reasonably good job of explaining conservatism without sinking into ad hominems or crackpot conspiracy theories. 

Reason is basically a libertarian publication, funded in part by the Koch family.  Its writers have never met a tobacco or oil company they don't admire. But befitting its title, their positions on policy issues are invariably well-reasoned. And they are ideologically consistent. Its writers are not afraid to call "foul" when partisans on either side of the political divide base their arguments on patent lies. See this piece reacting to a proposal President Trump made in his recent address to Congress.

The American Conservative is another thoughtful and well-written website. Although some of its writers spend a lot of time worrying about issues like who should use what bathroom, they usually do a good job of presenting their arguments cogently. Much of its writing is intelligently nuanced and measured. See this piece on heated rhetoric's relationship to hate crimes. 

People trapped in a bubble that leans right should occasionally read the columns of Paul Krugman and Bill Galston.  The former appears in the New York Times; the latter, in the Wall Street Journal. Both lean left, but they present their arguments intelligently and compellingly.  





How to pierce your Bubble

Filter-bubbleI went to a dinner party last night and, as I imagine is happening at many social gatherings these days, the conversation almost immediately turned to the national obsession -- Trump.

Our chatter was largely negative, from the president's thin-skinned and bullying Tweets to his staff's lack of respect for the office (putting one's feet on the Oval Office sofa).  But none of that is the point.

It struck me that it was all so one-sided. My dinner companions were a diverse group of straight and gay, Caucasian and Asian, retired and still-on-the-job men and women. But we all shared the same political ideology and roughly the same socio-econimic status.

Then it hit me -- this must have been what it was like to be anti-Obama between 2008 and 2016. Those poor souls must have been just as bewildered, angry, and frightened as us (of course without the same justification).

Right-wing conservatives don't have a monopoly on ideological bubbles. I live in one too.  Maybe you do as well.

So, over the next few posts, I'll be listing a few websites and apps you might try to see just how far out of the "mainstream of middle America" you are swimming and to sample current thinking outside your normal bubble.   

Start with a 25-question survey constructed by the "PBS Newshour" that will tell you just how thick your bubble is.   

If you want to see many of the apps and websites at once, read Amanda Hess's terrific story in The New York Times.





Martin's Rule of Thumb

Rule-of-thumbWhen people forward an email that confirms their previously-held opinion, the chance it’s false or slanted is at least 51%.  

The likelihood of its falsity rises in proportion to the sender’s narrow mindedness multiplied by the email's apparent authority, because the thrill of confirmation reduces the likelihood the sender will check the email's veracity.  

Consider the following email which is making the rounds of inboxes far and wide.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Redacted to save the sender deserved embarrassment 
Date: February 22, 2017 at 2:00:13 PM PST
To:Redacted because we can't always control what enters our inbox


What is meant by the modern term referred to as 'POLITICAL CORRECTNESS’.. 

The definition is found in 4 telegrams at the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.  The following are copies of four telegrams between President Harry Truman and Gen Douglas MacArthur on the day before the actual signing of the WWII Surrender Agreement in September 1945..  The contents of those four telegrams below are exactly as received at the end of the war - not a word has been added or deleted!  

(1) Tokyo, Japan   0800-September 1,1945 

To: President Harry S Truman 

From: General D A MacArthur 

Tomorrow we meet with those yellow-bellied bastards and sign the Surrender Documents, any last minute instructions?  

(2) Washington, D C   1300-September 1, 1945 

To: D A MacArthur 

From: H S Truman  

Congratulations, job well done, but you must tone down your obvious dislike of the Japanese when discussing the terms of the surrender with the press, because some of your remarks are fundamentally not politically correct!   

(3) Tokyo, Japan  1630-September 1, 1945 

To: H S Truman 

From: D A MacArthur and C H Nimitz  

Wilco Sir, but both Chester and I are somewhat confused, exactly what does the term politically correct mean?  


(4) Washington, D C  2120-September 1, 1945 

To: D A MacArthur/C H Nimitz 

From: H S Truman 

Political Correctness is a doctrine, recently fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and promoted by a sick mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end!  

Now, with special thanks to the Truman Museum and Harry himself, you and I finally have a full understanding of what 'POLITICAL CORRECTNESS' really means…..

It took me one minute on Snopes to establish that the email above is 100% FALSE and has been floating around the Internet since at least 2006.

Which brings me to Martin's corollary: the longer something is being forwarded around the Internet, the less likely it's true.

All in the interests of media literacy.