There are controversial subjects that are either too complicated or taboo to be discussed in depth in mainstream media. Despite these difficulties, ideas should never be inhibited. Alternative platforms that exist are essential because they allow ideas to be discussed unfiltered which wouldn’t be possible in the mainstream media.
In the United States, 47% of Americans prefer to watch the news rather than read or listen to it; of this percentage, 75% of Americans would rather watch the news on television, according to a December 2018 Pew Research study. Additionally, preferred news platforms were at 44% for television news, 34% for news on the web, 14% for radio news and 7% for print.
While television remains a popular format for information dissemination, television networks are accountable to sponsors and shareholders. This accountability restricts networks, forcing them to rely on viewership ratings and commercial air time for success, which could be unstable as the stats above show.
Removing these restrictions when having an open dialogue, whether controversial or not, is essential not just for the welfare of students, but of the general public as well. For the most part, there should be no topic that is off-limits to discuss publicly and no irreversible repercussions associated with discussing them.
This was not the case for James Damore and his memo, “Google’s ideallogical echo chamber”. In 2017, Damore was an employee at Google when he wrote a memo about the differences between men and women and how these differences contribute to the gender pay gap. Damore also wrote about the political biases he believed existed at Google; the memo is available to read online on reddit. He was soon fired from the company, resulting in national media attention and Damore filing a lawsuit against Google, according to a January 2018 NPR article.
Another infamous instance of public backlash against open dialogue on a controversial topic is found in the fallout associated with the book “The Bell Curve,” written by research scientists Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein in 1994.
“The Bell Curve” was a deep look into human intelligence and the factors that lead to differences in intelligence between groups of people. The most controversial part of the book was a chapter that looked at the differences in IQ between races and whether genetics or environment has more of an effect on these differences.
Hernstein died shortly before the book’s publication and, facing the criticism alone, Murray’s reputation was tarnished. In fact, after the book was published Murray was labeled a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Whether or not there is any weight behind the claims from Damore and Murray, there should be spaces available for people to talk open and honestly about issues and ideas without the fear of being fired or having reputations destroyed. These spaces are virtually nonexistent on television or in the mainstream media, and when they are on these platforms there is a barrier of political correctness that hinders honest conversation.
Alternative platforms do exist where conversations occur and are devoid of political correctness and bias. These platforms consist of long-form conversations usually between two actively engaged individuals.
One platform that uses this format is the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, started by comedian Joe Rogan. Since its inception in 2009, Rogan has broadcast over 1,000 conversations with a vast number of individuals who specialize in different fields.
Another platform is the Making Sense podcast, started in 2013 by neuroscientist Sam Harris. On this platform, Harris speaks with experts on issues such as artificial intelligence, Islamophobia and white supremacy.
What makes Rogan and Harris’ platforms unique is the fact that the conversations can last over three hours and remain engaging throughout. Television doesn’t have the luxury of this free-flowing style of conversation due to the limited amount of time available to the networks.
These alternative platforms allow the hosts to talk with people that interest them and hold meaningful conversations. This format has resonated with millions of individuals around the world who have built large communities around these platforms.
As of Sept. 30, Rogan has 5.32 million Twitter followers and 6.4 million YouTube subscribers, while Harris has 1.26 million followers and 351 thousand subscribers, respectively. Rogan has over 1.5 billion video views and Harris has over 6.5 million views, according to Trackalytics. To put this in perspective, Sept. 25 Fox News had 3.3 million viewers and CNN had 1.5 million viewers, according to a September 2019 Deadline article.
This doesn’t mean every topic should be off-limits or that everyone should have a platform to speak. Racism and conspiracy theories make up a large percentage of YouTube comment sections, revealing a cesspool of ignorance and absurdity. Rather, open conversation should emphasize honest objectivity. All points of view should be heard, and emotions should not be a determining factor. However, it’s difficult for people to remain objective when they’re participating in emotionally charged conversations.
Conversation should never be stifled because of the limitations of media platforms. There is a measurable interest among the general public in alternative platforms that offer free-form discussions which tackle important and controversial topics. These platforms are necessary to disseminate information when other platforms are incapable of doing so.