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128: Get outside the echo chamber: How to make a break

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128: Get outside the echo chamber: How to make a break
Leave your thoughts Stuart Thomson

By Stuart Thomson

One of the cornerstones of effective public affairs is the ability to think critically. Too often, however, there is a tendency to drift into listening only to likeminded people. We have to break out of this echo chamber otherwise critical thinking will become a thing of the past.

Listening to other views takes time and effort. Social media appears to be increasing the tendency to only listen to similar people with similar outlooks. If this continues then judgement and perspective can be lost. The best public affairs campaigns are those that think through the issues, ask the difficult questions and consider the implications.

Campaigns need this type of scrutiny from the outset. If the challenge is not there then mistakes are easier to make – you could be left unable to deal with fairly simple questions or getting involved at the wrong time.

Is it important to stay sharp and living in an echo chamber can blunt your instincts. It is too easy to listen just to what friends on Facebook are saying, follow the people you like on Twitter and read the views of political pundits or journalists focusing on Parliament.

There is not though one simple echo chamber. There are several. There is the chamber that reflects your type of politics – left, right, nationalist etc. But there is also the chamber that keeps you in the Westminster bubble, the Holyrood bubble etc. Both limit horizons and mean that you risk not being aware of positions being adopted by others, or indeed considering an angle that been overlooked.

Here are a few tips and ideas to avoid being caught in a chamber:

  1. Vary your listening habits – the Today programme may set the political agenda but the likes of Lynton Crosby claim not to listen to it at all (or even recall its name). Listening to some phone-ins (LBC, Radio 5 and across local outlets) can deliver a broader perspective.
  2. Get specialist as well – balance is critical so you should also be aware of more specialist opportunities that exist across broadcast outlets as well as online. For instance, Share Radio, which focuses on financial matters, provides a range of voices across a more specialist sector.
  3. Get your podcasts right – although they are more widely considered in the US, podcasts provide a great way to consume a range of media. I particularly like the Times, Guardian, New Statesman and Spectator podcasts.
  4. Blogs – find some time to read blogs and set up alerts so that you do not have to constantly look but instead they arrive in your inbox. Leading commentators, academics, media and event public affairs / communications experts all blog.
  5. Revisit Twitter – a lot us use Twitter as a source of news as well as a way of finding out what politicians actually think. However, the list of who you follow was often set up when you first established an account. People often do not use lists either. You can set up lists around specific issues, a particular area, political party etc. which makes following what is going on much easier. You can also subscribe to other people’s lists.

I am sure that I missed out some great podcasts or Twitter lists that people have so do feel free to leave a comment or tweet me (@redpolitics) to share your top tips.

If you find yourself in a chamber then make efforts to escape from it. The advice you deliver will be the better for it.

21 October 2015

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