Personal Essay

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for politics and journalism. I largely attribute this to my mom. She was a CNN anchor, which meant that by the transitive property, the news was a staple in my childhood. Any car ride, much to my dismay at the time, was filled with what I referred to as the “tired” voices of National Public Radio. Today, in contrast to my youth, I actively consume the news by choice. It has gotten to the point where my friends even refer to me as a “news junkie.” My interest in the news, politics, and journalism has prompted me to do my final project on social media echo chambers and their possible impact on the current political climate in the United States. This topic could not be more prevalent because in today’s world many Americans get their news from social media. This can be problematic because many social media organizations like Twitter and Facebook cater their feed content to consumer preferences. In many cases, consumers restrict themselves to echo chambers meaning that they only expose themselves to opinions that align with their own, thus making them stronger. Ultimately, I want to investigate the impact of social media echo chambers on the ever-present political polarization in our country.

This summer, I had the opportunity to intern at MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. It was an amazing opportunity where I was able to gain production and journalism experience. One thing I learned rather quickly was that Morning Joe covers stories that cater to a more liberal base. This means that there is an abundance of focus on stories about President Donald Trump. I was particularly surprised to see the amount of time that was spent covering his Twitter activity. The fact that one of the biggest morning news shows in the industry is devoting a substantial amount of time to a world leader’s social media activity is indicative of how the news industry is evolving. We live in a time where the President of the United States uses Twitter to communicate with foreign leaders, domestic leaders, and even the American people. This goes to show the significant role social media plays in our everyday lives. In today’s world, many politicians, like President Trump, use social media platforms to publish content that will fire up their base and promote their self-interest whether it be a campaign, policy initiative, etc. My experience at Morning Joe made me realize that the news industry is going through a kind of metamorphosis due to the rise of social media platforms and the wide-spread participation among political figures, journalists, and political commentators.

I get my news from a wide variety of sources including The NPR Politics Podcast, Pod Save America, The Daily Podcast, The NY Times, and Twitter. Twitter is the obvious black sheep of the group because many consider Twitter to be a social media platform instead of an informative current event resource. Twitter is indeed utilized by many for its less serious content such as following your favorite celebrities, watching funny videos, and keeping up to date on who or what is “internet famous.” However, Twitter has become so much more than a way for users to keep a tab on internet culture. When I was working at Morning Joe, I had to make a Twitter so that I could keep up with the news of the day. I initially thought that I would solely be following political figures like President Trump, but instead, I ended up following a wide variety of organizations and people with different agendas and political backgrounds. The wide assortment of people and groups that I followed on Twitter allowed me to keep up to date on breaking news and effectively do my job.

Because of the circumstances for which I created my Twitter, my feed is 99% politics. It is important to note that who you follow on Twitter is a direct reflection of what content you want to be exposed to. I would identify myself as a Democrat, and it would be fair to say that a majority of the news sources I expose myself to are more liberal. That being said, my Twitter feed doesn’t always reflect my political beliefs. In addition to several liberal news sources, I also follow a wide variety of conservative news shows such as Fox and Friends and conservative political commentators like Tomi Lahren. Thus, I would argue that my Twitter feed is not an echo chamber because I am not only exposed to beliefs that reaffirm my own. Although there are times when Tomi Lahren’s opinions upset me, I continue to follow her because I believe it is of the utmost importance to listen to what conservative pundits are saying. That being said, there is evidence that suggests many social media users shelter themselves from opinions that don’t coincide with their own. This is done both by the users who decide who to follow, but also by the social media networks that employ formulas that specialize user feeds. I hypothesize that many consumers on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook have feeds that are incredibly politicized to the point where they are echo chambers, which in turn exacerbates the partisan divide within our country.

In conclusion, we are living in an unprecedented time regarding American politics and the news. In today’s age, there is huge skepticism over what is fact, fiction, and media spin. This is largely due to the abundance of news resources available to consumers. This has caused many people to become overwhelmed and turn to social media companies like Facebook and Twitter as current event resources. These platforms are incredibly accessible, but they also tend to only provide news content that aligns with their consumer’s partisan views. As a consequence of this, social media echo chambers are created which can increase political extremism. Ultimately, it would be incredibly interesting to investigate the degree to which social media echo chambers exist and the possible impact that they are having on our society’s current political climate.

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Final Project Proposal

For my final project, I want to investigate the relationship between social media and political echo chambers. An echo chamber is an environment where an individual is only exposed to beliefs that coincide with their own. Echo chambers make consumer views stronger and more averse to alternative viewpoints. The topic relates to digital media because of the social media aspect. Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook cater content on people’s feeds to keep consumers engaged. This can have an incredibly polarizing effect, and I hypothesize that social media is playing a divisive role in the current political climate in the United States. Another aspect that I would like to investigate is the factual accuracy of news on social media compared to news from more traditional outlets (newspapers, cable TV, broadcast TV, etc.). Ultimately, I’m incredibly interested in politics and would love to learn more about the role social media is playing in this unprecedented time. I know this a very broad topic, but I will narrow my focus as the semester progresses.

Blog Post #1

As of now, I’m feeling good about the process of making a website. I’ve never created a website before, so it took me a while to get the hang of WordPress. That being said, I’m pleased about what I’ve made thus far. I have a very clean website that I will make more sophisticated as the semester goes along. I hope for my website to be something I put on my LinkedIn because of its sophisticated content and to showcase my technological expertise. At this point, I’m not sure whether I would take it a step further and turn it into my own digital platform. However, it’s amazing that I have the opportunity to do that. In terms of the theme, I just wanted to keep it very simple because I know I’m going to make plenty of changes in the future. My goal was to make a solid foundation of a website that I can further develop in the future. Hence, I chose a very simple layout with a white background and limited text boxes. One of my all time favorite website designs is Buzzfeed. I don’t think I’ll be able to replicate anything close to their website design, however I want to include lots of images and graphics to engage viewers. By the end of the semester, I hope I’m able to add plenty of quality content, images, and elements of design that enhance my website. Thus far, I had your standard amount of frustrations, while building a website for the first time. I think eventually I will proficient WordPress and a whiz at creating websites.

Extra Credit #1, September 27, 2019

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending Bethlehem, one of the movies brought to White Hall by the American Jewish Film Festival (AJFF). Emory’s own Professor Cohen, a Hebrew Lecturer, introduced the film to the audience by giving us some basic information on the Israel and Palestine conflict and the context of the film. The film centers around Sanfur, a young man trying to find his self worth in the midst of his brother being a renowned member of thee al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Instead of following in his brother’s food steps, Sanfur decides to collaborate with Israeli intelligence agent Razi to combat his brother’s activities. Razi and Sanfur develop a father-son relationship, which only further complicates the plot line as Sanfur is torn between his blood and a significant father figure. When Ibrahim is killed by the Israel’s secret service, Sanfur spirals out of control and ends up resenting Razi for his involvement in the murder. The story ends with Sanfur’s betrayal coming to light and him being forced to kill Razi to atone for his involvement in his brother’s death. At the conclusion of the movie, two other Emory Professors, Dr. Burnstein and Dr. Queen, had a discussion of the ethics of the film and how it portrayed the entanglement of the Israel-Palestine relations. Dr. Queen compared the movie to a Greek tragedy because despite Razi making all the right decisions, he still went down a path of self destruction. In connection to our course, the violence of the climax when Sanfur smashed Razi’s head in with a rock reminded me of the Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch. It was so violent that I had to turn away because I couldn’t bear to look at it. Ultimately, the film and post discussion were fascinating, and I’m so glad I was able to attend the screening.

About

My name is Julian McCarthy, and I am a rising junior at Emory University and plan to major in Film and Media studies and minor in Political Science. I’m currently enrolled in Film 208: Digital Media and Culture. In this class, we create our own online spaces where we complete assignments, research, and creative projects.