When Barack Obama won his 2nd term, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least the world is a safer place for another 4 more years. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been too concerned. According to analysis of polling data, Obama had an 86% chance of winning the election. It would have been a walkover, so why worry?
But hardcore Republicans didn’t believe the reports. Romney was reportedly so confident that he would win that he didn’t even prepare a concession speech. When the curtain fell, Republicans were shell-shocked. They couldn’t believe they had lost. The question is “Why didn’t they see it coming?”
The Republicans were ultimately misinformed because they were victims of conservative media. Right-leaning Fox News and conservative radio talk shows by people like Rush Limbaugh consistently drilled the message into their audience that Obama was evil, Obama’s policies were bad for America, and Obama was sure to lose. Their conservative audience lapped it all up. The conservative media created a wall within America, causing conservatives to denounce anyone who would support or even mildly sympathise with Obama. In the end, the conservative media failed its audience by warping their mindset beyond reality.
But if Fox News is so bad, why do people still watch it? If Rush Limbaugh is clearly an idiotic racist, why is he so popular? The unfortunate reality is that it is tempting to retreat into our own ideological echo chambers. Fox News is popular because its audience are people who already want to hear why Obama is the worst president in America’s history. Most people want to be surrounded by others who share the same values and beliefs. The echo chamber becomes a bubble that causes its listeners to mistrust anything that conflicts with its ideology, at the expense of drowning out reasonable voices.
Now that the problem has been identified, why can’t the Americans fix Fox News? In fact, why can’t Fox News fix itself and truly become “fair and balanced”? This is another unfortunate problem, because Fox News ultimately relies on an audience to make a living, and it has discovered that the easiest way to make money is to simply tell its audience what it wants to hear, whether it is the truth or not. Can you really blame Fox when people prefer to hear a beautiful lie instead of the ugly truth?
Echo Chamber Parallels in Singapore
The echo chamber syndrome is well and alive in Singapore. Both Opposition and PAP supporters suffer from it, although the opposition gets it much worse.
Pro-PAP social media is almost non-existant. Today, the only “prominent” example is Fabrications by the PAP, which is mostly a one-man operation anyway and therefore will never be able to grow into a powerhouse social media site. The mainstream media still adheres to PAP’s OB markers, but this media is morally bound to report factual issues as well as give the opposition some fair coverage for major news items.
Anti-PAP social media that focus solely on news putting PAP in a bad light are immensely popular. Temasek Review, Temasek times, TRS and to some extent TOC are our prime candidates. It doesn’t take a genius to check out these websites’ contents and conclude that their main entree of anti-PAP articles is an echo chamber. The nature of most comments left behind by its audience simply reinforces this point. The most rabid anti-PAP readers distrust almost anything that the mainstream media says, and any hint of sympathy towards the PAP is bashed in the most cynical manner. Websites like TRE know that they are popular because of their anti-PAP content. In order to keep their audience, their editors are naturally incentivised to keep the anti-PAP content flowing.
While there is nothing wrong with exposing the stupid things that the PAP does, this has to be balanced by the good things the PAP have achieved. Only the most cynical of Singaporeans will believe that one of the most admired and efficient governments in the world is made up of incompetent and corrupt politicians that are out to steal our lunch.
I fear that the echo chamber problems facing the US Republican party have replicated themselves in Singapore’s Anti-PAP social media. The “us” versus “them” mentality has grown stronger since the 2011 General Elections. Unfortunately, the politics of resentment can only go so far. A properly functional democracy requires us to accept that our society is really about many people with different interests pointing in different directions. Cherian George himself said: “Democracy requires the right to speak, and this is where the internet has come to the fore. But democracy also expects of citizens that we listen, to hear views different from our own, to negotiate and, if necessary, compromise. We need spaces for such deliberation and social conciliation.”