You have probably seen that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was caught on a hot mic gossiping and giggling with some other world leaders about President Donald Trump. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but none of that actually happened.
The incident you saw was edited from a much longer video which provided a very different context and understanding. At a cocktail reception in Buckingham Palace Trudeau was asked why he was late and he explained that he had been held up by Trump’s unscheduled press conference. Subsequently, the group was discussing the unexpected news that the next G7 summit would be held at Camp David. It was so unexpected that even Trump’s own team did not know he was going to announce it. Trudeau said their jaws dropped. That was it. No gossip. No hot mic. Nothing for anyone to apologize for.
Actually, if anyone should apologize it is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation who seemed to take a perverse glee in trying to make Trudeau look bad by promoting the biased, edited, doctored, video clip. I wonder about their motives, but right now they don’t look good.
I have been following this story with interest partly because it is a Canadian story and partly because it is about deliberate and accidental miscommunications. No matter how much I try to keep informed about current events, I am constantly aware that I could be misled, and it bothers me.
Despite all my efforts to read across a wide range of information and news sources, I am likely to read more of the articles that confirm my opinions. Reading counter-arguments is a lot more work, so like most people, I give them less of my attention. I am immediately turned off by condescension and insults from any writer, so those articles don’t even get a cursory glance. However, I will read thoughtful and well-written discussions from a wide variety of perspectives.
Having said that, I know that my information bubble tends to be self-reinforcing. It is a criticism of my news environment that deserves my attention, but it isn’t really a new thing. In the days before television news channels and the internet, I got my information most often from a single radio station and/or a single newspaper. And, those sources usually confirmed my understanding without challenging me very much.
My other sources for confirmation bias were, and are, my family and friends. Most of us spend time with people a lot like ourselves and we like it when they agree with us. That has not changed with our media options. In fact, we are most likely to use the same news sources and websites that our peers use.
Because we get our news from the same bubble all the time it means that we don’t often get an opportunity to have our ideas tested. It isn’t easy to find people who will debate our ideas with us without someone getting upset. We all think we have good reasons to take the stances we do on everything from Brexit to biofuels. After all, we’ve read about it online and we’ve watched shows about it on TV. We might even have been to meetings. What most of us haven’t done is learn how to debate with people who have reached different conclusions.
This self-reinforcing information bubble is sometimes called an echo chamber and that analogy works because the same ideas keep getting bounced back at us. But, the problem with the echo chamber metaphor is that it implies that the walls that surround our ideas are impenetrable. I prefer to think of these ideas being in a bubble because bubbles can burst. If the information I carry around with me is in a bubble, I can still see out and you can see in. Either one of us can burst the bubble without doing a lot of damage.
There is no need for any walls to come crashing down or for anyone’s sense of self to be destroyed. We just need to be able to see each other more clearly. Perhaps we could even see ourselves as others see us, but that is probably asking too much.