You're In A News Bubble. Here's How To Escape.

We are addicted to news that confirms our worldview.

It could be nostalgia from being a young adult and experiencing my first national crisis moment, but I don’t think it is. I’m talking about the way Americans processed September 11th, 2001. When America was attacked by terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., we all experienced it together, as a country.

It helped, of course, that we had national leadership like President George W. Bush, who was committed to bringing the country together and a Congress willing to come together and sing together as one body from the steps of the Capitol. But in that moment, almost 20 years ago, it seems so quaint that we watched and processed a moment together and agreed on what was happening. Sure, there were some outliers and folks who spouted conspiracy theories. There were a handful of politicians and preachers and pundits who said dumb things and had to apologize. But for the most part, we agreed on the facts, we agreed on the enemy, and we agreed on a way forward. This devolved years later with the war in Iraq, but at least when 9/11 happened and in the months after, there was a national consensus on the facts of what happened.

Today, no such consensus exists when national crises occur. We live in two separate worlds, red and blue, that process facts and news in separate siloed bubbles. New York Times reporter Kevin Roose has a provocative must-read about the news ecosystem on the Right that thrives on platforms like Facebook. But while Roose and other voices lament this conservative echo chamber, they miss a similar phenomenon that occurs in left-leaning and mainstream circles and on Twitter. Folks who get their news from headlines at places like CNN, The Washington Post, New York Times, AP, and Politico and other outlets also live in a sealed news bubble.

Two worlds. Two sets of interpretation of the facts. Two narratives. This is how we read the news in America. What’s even more mystifying is that people in a bubble don’t know they are in a bubble. We think we are getting “the real story” as opposed to “fake news.” But are we? How do you know if you are in a news echo chamber?

Let me use some recent news stories to pose some diagnostic questions:

If you think the coming coronavirus vaccine(s) will contain a chip implanted by Bill Gates, you are in a news bubble.

If you think the U.S. Post Office is deliberately stealing mailboxes to rig the election, you are in a news bubble.

If you think only 6% of COVID deaths are legitimate COVID deaths, you are in a news bubble.

If you think Southern states managed COVID worse than states like New York and New Jersey, you are in a news bubble.

If you think Kyle Rittenhouse is a hero, you are in a news bubble.

If you think rioters in places like Portland or Kenosha are exclusively right-wing agitators paid by Republicans, you are in a news bubble.

Here’s the point: we no longer process and watch major crises together. We are addicted to news, but only news that confirms our worldview. This is unhealthy. I could rant here about the declining trust in news organizations or about the growth of conspiracy theories on social media. But those realities don’t absolve me, you, and anyone reading this of responsibility for the way we process what is going on in the world. What we can do - what we must do - is commit ourselves to escaping our news bubbles. How do we do that? Here are five ideas:

  1. Read articles, not headlines. Headlines on major news sites are intentionally written to get you to click. They are often sensational and inaccurate. Read the whole story before making a decision, sharing, or posting.

  2. Wait a day before forming an opinion on a complicated situation. There is such pressure to have an opinion about an unfolding story. But to save yourself the embarrassment of being wrong two days later, wait.

  3. Read from a variety of sources. If you are conservative, read outside of conservative news sources. If you are progressive, read outside of mainstream and left-leaning sources. If you are catechized by CNN headlines or if you are catechized by Fox News headlines, you will have a view of the world, but it won’t be a complete one.

  4. If a story confirms what you already believe, be skeptical. Push back against your own confirmation bias. So if an article really confirms what you want to believe about a leader or movement with whom you disagree or if it really affirms what you want to be true about your tribe, be skeptical. Read further.

  5. Text privately before posting publicly. Do you have friends with whom you disagree? Ask them what they think about what is happening. Test out your hot takes before posting them prematurely.

I don’t want to be Pollyanna here, but the problem of misinformation and news begins with us, with the way we process what is happening in the world, and the way we choose to spread information. The Bible is clear that Christians should be pursuers of truth (Philippians 4:8) and measured in our reactions (James 1:19).

With that off my chest, I hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Bring on fall, the best season of the year.

This Week on The Way Home Podcast

What is the source of division and divisiveness in our country? What important bonds should we be creating at the local and national level to help bring healing and hope? Tim Carney is a journalist, author, and Christian whose book Alienated America looks at the policies and social disruption that has plagued many American communities. He joins me on The Way Home podcast as part of a special series highlighting themes from my new book, A Way With Words: How to Use Our Online Conversations for Good

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Interesting Links

  • Chris Martin and Trevin Wax have a really interesting conversation about social media and it’s long-term effects on society. It’s a sobering read. Chris has a book coming out next year on this that will be an important read.

  • There is a ton of angst about the integrity of this year’s Presidential election and some, I think, irresponsible comments from people on both sides of the aisle and not a little fearmongering from some in the media. I’m concerned, but I actually think we will be ok. However, there are things folks can do to help this. My friend Chris Crawford has been involved in this issue and has some helpful things here.

  • Josh Wester, my former ERLC colleague, has a good essay about human dignity and cognitive dissonance. A great read.

  • Matt Taibbi, always provocative, has an interesting piece on the relationship between Trump and the press. Trigger warning: you will find things with which you disagree. Read it anyway.

  • Senator Rand Paul and his wife were attacked by a mob after leaving the White House last week. He’s also been attacked by a neighbor and shot at a baseball field. His wife has a sobering read.

  • A pastoral piece: my friend Mike Bullmore is a wonderful pastor in Kenosha who writes a pastoral word about what is going in his city. I love his heart.

What I’m Reading

  • I’m in the middle of Leland Ryken’s biography of J.I. Packer - J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life. It’s a wonderful journey through the life of someone whose work has served and continues to serve the church.

  • I am also reading Leap Over a Wall by Eugene Peterson. I found this in a used bookstore and am just loving Peterson’s walk through the life of King David.

Personal Projects

Well, I’m smack dab in the middle of book promotion for A Way With Words, which you can get on Lifeway now for 50% off. So I’ve been doing some podcasts and articles. A few:

  • My friend Matt Lewis and I talked on his podcast about social media, media and politics.

  • The Acton Institute had me on their excellent Acton Line podcast.

  • Joel Harder of Leaders We Need and Oklahoma Capitol Commission had me on his podcast to talk about leaders and their public speech.

  • Ed Stetzer interviewed me at Christianity Today

  • I wrote an oped on conspiracy theories and disinformation for USA Today

I’m also writing quite a few articles and recording some special podcasts and projects. And I’m speaking a bit this fall, mostly via video.

Stay in Touch

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If you have any feedback on One Little Word, I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me on Twitter here.