Newhouse is #CounteringHate


Image taken by @christina_howie

Newhouse’s event on the evening of Nov. 7 was a thought-proving panel with Dr. Haroon Ullah and Bob Pearson, authors of “Countering Hate.” The speakers discussed some possible answers to essential questions including, “where do hate, bias and extremism come from? What feeds them?” and “How can we counter those forces?” While listening to these media veterans, I took their words to heart and contemplated my own answers to those key questions.


During Mr. Pearson’s explanation of disinformation, he argued that people use disinformation to alter public opinion by repeating content to their respective audiences. This practice can have detrimental effects because the average person only retains about 14 percent of visual and auditory information, placing a lot of value on the content that is repeatedly disseminated. Disinformation wouldn’t be as damaging if we consciously chose varied and unbiased media content, but that is not how media platforms influence us.


When Dr. Ullah commented, “We don’t choose news, the news chooses us,” I began an intense reflection. I realized that it’s not always the decision of the public to constantly reinforce its views, never exposing themselves to conflicting arguments. It is most often in the hands of the social platforms we spend on which we spend so much of our waking hours. Sixty-six percent of Facebook users – amounting to 44 percent of the general American population – get news from Facebook (Pew Research Center). Through targeted advertising and user specific feeds, news agencies can use the popularity of Facebook to optimize the content to which we are exposed.


Normally, customization is an innovative and convenient quality in a product. The problem is, information shouldn’t be treated like a backpack or a pair of socks. Despite the advancing technology that constantly gives us new ways of communicating, it prevents society from being presented the same set of facts, from being on the same page. Countering hate, no matter what form hate appears as, is extremely difficult at a time where news is no longer watched on the television set’s few broadcast networks and current events’ details are no longer read solely with a printed newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.


Mr. Pearson and Dr. Ullah continuously emphasized that in order to counter hate – bigotry, violence, partisanship, and extremism – we need to collectively understand both sides; we have to respect and learn about what motivates our antagonists to antagonize. That understanding cannot occur without adhering to a fact-based reality.


When a country’s population is not exposed to the same objective information and does not take it upon itself to find that information, it will become polarized. When public opinion becomes polarized in a society where news outlets select their audiences, it is harder to agree on the center of that spectrum – truth. Without belief in fact creating a universal truth, it is only natural that we have become paranoid.


Our country is now divided because everything we are shown that doesn’t align with our views is automatically presumed fake news and the media that do confirm our views are telling us the truth. So, why should we bother compromising or agreeing when we certain that our opinions, actions, and perspectives are correct? We can’t even answer that question until serious steps are taken to bring everyone back to the center. The isolated actions of news media or social media giants or fact-checking organizations cannot change the culture of hate in which we currently live. Realistically, everyone must recognize what is feeding hate and join the effort to eliminate the food source.


In an effort to end this post on an optimistic note, Mr. Pearson and Dr. Ullah did give us some advice on how to start countering hate in our everyday lives. We have to start with small actions (Pearson & Ullah, 234). Whether you invite someone who sits alone to join you at lunch, take the time to listen to someone else’s opinion, or volunteer on the weekends, your small actions can start moving the needle towards a more open-minded, proactive society. With these small actions, we are #counteringhate moving forward.

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