The Trek Episode 25 on Media: Civics Unplugged defines media biases and how to critically think and be subjective – in collaboration with Humanity 2.0

Contributed by: Show Editorial Team

Gary Sheng, Madison Adams, Angel Nwadibia, Julia Terpak, Thanasi Dilos, Elena Ashburn, Noor Myran, Maryam Tourk, Chabu Kapumba, Kirolos Stalat, Allison Su, Leora Soibelman, and special guest Justin Horwitz discuss media on this week’s episode of The Trek


  • Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community on media biases and how to critically think and digest information
  • Prominent Gen Z figures discuss information overload and the desensitization to media
  • Future leaders of America discuss the difficulties in finding unbiased media sources and the information overload Gen Z kids take in on a daily basis



Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 – a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).

Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Angel Nwadibia, Co-executive Director at Planet Justice, Chabu Kapumba, Senior Fellow at Civics Unplugged, Leora Soibelman, Video Producer at Civics Unplugged, Julia Terpak, Founder of Gen Z Connect, Maryam Tourk, Co-founder of CU Summer Camp, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of 2020 CU Fellowship, Thanasi Dilos, Co-founder of Civics Unplugged, Elena Ashburn, Host of “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast, Kirolos Stalat, 2021 Fellow at Civics Unplugged, Allison Su, 2021 Fellow at Civics Unplugged and special guest Justin Horwitz, Founder/President of Really American PAC

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:09

Hello everyone and welcome to the Trek. The Trek is a Civics Unplugged series where community members have meaningful discussions on topics that are too often neglected when thinking about building the future. Through prompting questions and provocations, we venture into complex, but important conversations related to building the future and democracy. We understand that this work requires ongoing dialogue, but it’s a journey worth trekking through. My name is Madison and I’m a high school senior from Verdigris, Oklahoma. I’m joined by I think the most people we’ve ever had at a Trek. And today we’re talking about media, we’re going to start off with a word association. So when you see your name on the list, do a quick introduction and then very briefly your one to three words. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:55

I am happy to get started. Hello, my name is Chabu. I am 19 I’m based out of Toronto. And when I think of media, narrative bending is the phrase that comes to mind.  it plays such a key role in how we interpret and understand other people and so those are my two words when it comes to media.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:01:16

Hi, I’m Julia. I’m 23 years old and live in Pennsylvania. I think two words come to mind. Biased and in today’s world, algorithm comes to mind when it comes to like the media you consume. Too.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:32

Hi, I’m Leora. I’m 18. I’m from Newton, Massachusetts. My two words are incredibly powerful. I feel like that is self-explanatory. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:01:46

Hi, my name is Maryam I’m 17 and I’m from the suburbs of Chicago. And my three words are influences, public, consciousness.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:02:01

Hi. My name is Noor. I’m also 17 and also from the suburbs of Chicago I use she/her pronouns and my three words were power, education and influence.

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:02:17

My name is Thanasi. I’m from New York city. And I guess the one word I’ll go with is bittersweet.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:02:29

Hi, my name is Angel I’m 18 from DC, and I want to steal Noam Chomsky’s manufacturing consent, but I also want to say commodifying the self. So either one that you find fitting Madison, you can put down.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:02:56

Hello. My name is Elena Ashburn I’m 17. I currently live in Broward County, Florida. And I think that the three words that come to mind are at our fingertips.

Kirolos Stalat – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:03:33

Hi, I’m Kirolos. I am from Egypt Cairo. My words are public and powerful.

Allison Su – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged:  00:03:56

Hi, my name is Alison I’m 16. I’m from Ohio and my words are opinionated and loud.

Justin Horwitz – Founder/President, Really American PAC: 00:04:15

Hi, my name is Justin, I’m from Chicago. And I’m going to take from who said manufacturing consent. I like that. I’ll take that.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:04:45

Hey, I’m Gary, I’m calling in from New York or no, I’m not the first time I’m not calling in from New York, Chicago. I want to put narrative warfare. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:05:06

Okay. And I’m going to say information overload, which I think is pretty self-explanatory. Alright. Now on to the actual discussion. So if anyone has a question or a provocation, just shout it out. I can write it down and we can start talking about it.

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:05:35

I can go for one, like pretty broad is the media, as it grows, become less meaningful. Does having constant headlines in your pocket and being surrounded by media, make every new story, less meaningful to an individual? 

Justin Horwitz – Founder/President, Really American PAC: 00:06:19

I would say no, it’s just become different. I mean the way we consume media is different. But it’s still, you know, as issues statuary I think media still has the same effect on people. We just don’t have, you know, three or four channels to give us all our media. So, everybody’s not on the same page. I think in many ways media has become more meaningful because it’s largely responsible for where we find ourselves right now.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:07:21

Yeah. I think media has become more overwhelming, but if anything, I feel like our generation’s more media obsessed than ever. I mean, we’re constantly on our phones and constantly on apps taking in media.

Allison Su – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged:  00:07:42

I feel like it’s more meaningful because our generation, kind of what Julia said, our generation grew up with media. And I think we’re the first generation that has ever grew up with media essentially. And I feel like it really impacts our life a lot. 

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:08:08

I’m going based off of what Thanasi described when he was elaborating on his question. Like focusing specifically on the multiple headlines circulating rotating through the media cycle that we’re constantly exposed to, I would say cheating. Yes and no. I think no for the reasons that everyone here has stated, but also yes, because we’re getting desensitized almost to these stories just as quick as the headline comes, a new one is there to replace it the next day. Not even the next day, like literally 10 seconds later. I mean, just look at how quick trends come and go. One day we have people posting black squares on social media, for instance at the behest of the black lives matter movement and then maybe not necessarily the next day, but the next month we’re onto the next topic, the next issue. So I think that in a sense it’s become less meaningful for, as in the impact is less but long lasting, but there are debates to be had over the word less. But while the duration isn’t as long, the I would say the magnitude of the impact has definitely grown.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:09:46

I really struggled internally with this question because like Angel, I definitely see both sides of the question. It is both. Yes. And no, there’s not one singular answer to this question, but when I first heard the question, I kind of thought of the media as in specifically reporters. And I think because I’m on the school newspaper staff in my school and we had a whole conversation the other day about how people take for granted, what media reporters and people in media have to do in order to get these headlines out there constantly and all of the time and so quickly for us to read. And it can be pretty dangerous and difficult. I mean, we all saw with the Capitol riots that they were putting their lives in danger to capture video and to get the stories out so we could see what was going on. And in that sense, I feel like a lot of people now don’t recognize I guess, sacrifices that reporters and people in the media have to make. And that was my immediate reaction to that question. But like Thanasi was saying with desensitized due to volume of media consumed, I would definitely agree that we have become more desensitized because I feel like there’s always a crazy headline coming out and it’s not, we don’t take time to process it. We just kind of move on to the next headline, like Angel was saying, it’s a never ending cycle and we don’t really take time to reflect on the things that we see.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:11:41

So, with the Capitol building in general, the media on that, I feel like the first 24 hours obviously was crazy, especially on the internet, but after like 48 hours, it was almost completely died out. And for work where we’re approaching a campaign and someone was like, what? We don’t know, if something’s going to go crazy on inauguration day, whatever. And someone’s like, it’ll die down within 48 hours if something does. And I was like kind of taken back by that statement. But I was also like, that’s true because people’s attention spans, just move on so quickly now. Almost like no matter how crazy the news is. So it’s interesting.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:12:19

Yeah. I agree with that, Julia. And I think that I don’t think that media as a whole has become less meaningful, but I think that each piece we consume has become drastically less meaningful. I mean, think of the most popular social media platform there is right now, TikTok and it’s based around 15 second videos that people scroll for hours and hours and they’re consuming drastically different content all the time. And so it’s a constant craze for more, like I said, it’s an information overload and I know that a lot of kids have spoken about, you know, like Allison said, we’ve grown up with a lot of media. And so it’s this place to where a lot of people don’t even feel comfortable, not consuming media. Like they can’t even sit by themselves in a room. Like I know that it’s hard for me to get ready without listening to music or watching a YouTube video because we’re just at a constant state of stimulation. So I think that by virtue of that, every piece just becomes less meaningful, but not media as a whole.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:13:14

I don’t think that the pandemic has really helped with that either. Like you’re saying honestly it’s been lonely. I haven’t seen anyone except for my immediate family in months. I can’t even tell you, so sometimes putting on a podcast or putting on an album, it makes me feel less alone. And I think that the pandemic in general, all of us have been consuming so much. And within this pandemic, so many things have happened, obviously, a pandemic a huge election an insurrection, like I could go on and on every day there’s a new story that is crazy and wild and would be the talk of the century. If it was any other century.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:13:56

I will say that I do think that media has become less meaningful, but it has become more impactful. When I think of things that are meaningful, I think of things that really touched my heart, moved me in a different way. Provoke me to think differently. And I don’t think that a lot of media is able to do that anymore, as well as it may have been in the past. But I do think that the level of impact has essentially no boundary and influences more things than we could have anticipated. There’s a distinction between meaningful and impactful. And I feel like that’s really relevant here. 

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:14:36

I mean also another part and the only reason I ask this question is cause my parents and I were getting to fights and they’re like when we grew up there with four news channels and all the facts were the same and well, that’s true. It has its negatives and positives that we can talk about. But the other thing is it’s so easy to validate any belief you have with the amount of media. Like you can definitely find someone writing and articulate piece about how the government is just lizard men in the human suits, right? Like you can validate your beliefs and live in these different universes. So does that mean that news and facts as a whole, because of the widespread availability of all these alternate alternative facts does that make factual content and truth less meaningful? Have we devalued as a society? What it to have the truth, because the truth means a bunch of things to a bunch of different people now, and we’re all in these different spaces and if we can’t come together, we can’t do anything. So that’s kind of how I think about it.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:15:34

I think if anything, truth is subjective nowadays. I think it’s because like you were saying, there are so many alternative media sources and alternative facts. It’s not so much about where all the linings saying this is the truth. We can’t all agree on one fact, everyone can find their own truth and they can find a source that fits their truth versus finding the truth from the source.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:16:09

Something we’re kind of talking about in a philosophy class I’m taking is this idea that as technology gets more powerful specifically in terms of machinery and AI, but I guess it also applies here. The more we take claims to be truths, the more we see just claims as truths. And I think personally, I know that as media just progresses into what it is becoming, there was at least personally a lot of sensory overload, which is ironic because I think I’ve become very desensitized to the news. But I think that being able to differentiate a claim versus an actual truth or something that you also agree with is key to understanding that. And I think it’s interesting that kids in my philosophy class, like myself included were really uncomfortable with the fact that sometimes what you’re told, isn’t the truth. And you have to be the deciding factor of like, this is a claim versus a truth. And I can see truth in the claim. If I have the resources to validate that

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:17:20

I have a kind of related question. I was talking to Gary a while ago about politicians and their decisions and how often it’s motivated by how their decisions, like how their policy sounds and looks and feels versus the substantive effect that it has on the people. Do you think that’s true? Do we all think that’s true or do we see that policy is more show now because it has better clarity. I don’t know if that made sense at all.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:17:56

Yeah, but I feel like there’s also always been that sense of performative policy.

Justin Horwitz – Founder/President, Really American PAC: 00:18:22

Same things get politicians to act, and we actually have a lot more mechanisms to get them to act now. And it’s generally always public opinion. You look at everybody that ended up supporting Trump at first, nobody did because approval ratings hit 40% nationally, and he became popular within the Republican party. And you had a totally obedient you know, people who hated those gods, who don’t believe at things. He says, I really think public opinion above all. Trump’s all no pun intended in terms of what gets politicians to act. And a lot of times that can be what they perceived to be consensus issues based on what they see on social media regularly.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:19:15

But honestly who can blame them, right? Like if we’ve established that we’re living in a society where people are constantly consuming things, we’ve talked about how, I don’t think that people are really willing to go deep on policy. And so branding and the way that things sound is I would say arguably more important than ever. And so, if I was a politician, I would want to make sure it sounds good. I mean, because the things that I think a large part of why people like Trump is because he says a lot of things, that sound good if you have absolutely no context. And so it makes sense that they’ve adapted to that sort of game. 

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:19:48

Additionally I think that it’s also important to establish the fact that media in and of itself isn’t necessarily the culprit that is causing what, like Elena perfectly called performative policy. Right. I think we need to go beyond the media and look at who is funding you? And when I say media right now, I’m specifically talking about news media, but who is funding you? Who are the stakeholders behind this operation? And what motivations do they have in promoting or demonizing a specific policy, you know? And that this question or these series of questions go beyond social or news media and be directly applied to like politicians themselves and who funds them.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:20:54

I would agree with Angel. I don’t think that media is necessarily the cause of performative policy. I do think it is a factor in performative policy, but like I said earlier, performative policy has always been there and will always be there because in essence politicians, normally they want two things. They want power for themselves in their party and they want to get reelected. And as long as they think that the policy that they’re putting forth will resonate with their base and the voters that they’re trying to cater to, then they’re probably going to advocate for it. And I can put it forward having media that I guess, to Madison’s point had media that makes things sound a certain way. And I guess intention in how they want their policies to sound like Madison was kind of saying, you want your policy to sound good. And when media, a lot of what people read is just the headline or just the little, couple sentences that pop up in that notification. They’re going to want to back policies that are going to be presented well in the media and presented well to their support.

Allison Su – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged:  00:22:20

I agree. Going off of Elena and Angel’s points, I think the people in general don’t know the politicians personally. And so it was really hard to know what they actually believe in versus what they don’t versus what they are saying it because they wanted to win the election and everything. It’s really hard for the public, as an audience to differentiate if they’re really for advocating for the policy or if they’re just saying it because they’re trying to win essentially. 

Justin Horwitz – Founder/President, Really American PAC: 00:23:11

Does it matter if a politician really believes the issues they’re pushing for, if they’re going to get them done in response to public pressure either way?

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:23:31

Mm I’d say no. Yes and no, but more on the no side, because I think that politicians are supposed to be representatives of the people. And I think we’ve turned that into people’s mindset is the politician knows better than the people. And everybody else can be hands-off while they make decisions for the masses. But, if we look at the way that the country was supposed to be structured, representative government was just supposed to be a way to condense the view of the democratic majority so that we can make policies that help most people. So I’d say, no, it really doesn’t matter just as long as they’re doing the work of the people.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:24:12

Yeah. I definitely have to agree with Thanasi on that one. Politicians, when they step into the role of public servant, they are, as the name suggests a servant to the public. And so in their job description, they need to put aside their own personal desires and their own personal opinions in order to enact the general will. So I think at least in the basic tenants of democracy, it shouldn’t matter whether or not a politician believes in what they’re passing along as it is a policy that will help. But constituency, I don’t think it should matter. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:25:04

And that same thought, I would say that the way that politicians are supposed to be representative of the people, I do think that the newfound trend of policy taking into account, how we’ll be perceived by media is a reflection of the people and not necessarily political systems. It’s not necessarily that lawmakers feel personally incentivized, or maybe they do to an extent to make policy that will spin well. But the reaction of the people is of constituents is why it’s important to kind of take that into consideration. Cause that speaks to the long-term success of whatever is being passed.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:26:09

Okay. To what extent do you, I’m inspired by two things. I’m inspired by Julia and her word association. What stood out to me is that she said biased. And then also we were talking about finding sources that match your truth versus finding sources that tell the truth. So question is to what extent do you think the media you consume is biased and how do you personally combat that?

Justin Horwitz – Founder/President, Really American PAC: 00:26:55

I think all of our media is bias and it’s something I actually think about all the time. I was thinking about the question you posed earlier today. Just philosophically, like how do we know what truth even is anymore? We’re in a problematic scenario with really with the internet. It’s like the internet is going uncontrolled. But yeah, I absolutely think everything I read is bias. I don’t know how to combat it. And I think it’s something a lot of people are trying to figure out. The only thing I can think of is math tends to be right. And that there’s a universal truth that’s unbiased. Go Andrew Yang.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:28:20

This is a great question. I really don’t take almost any political media seriously. And the reason why a big reason why I think it’s revolutionary that Civics Unplugged, focuses so much on personal development because that’s like at the end of the day, that’s almost one of the only things that you can validate is working. Whether tweaking a process goal here or there, it could be a habit, a routine, a thought pattern here or there allows you to be a more virtuous, flourishing human being that supports the flourishing of other people. And I think you can build on top of that, you can build your judgment based on the small incremental changes that you make into your own life. And then you can start trying to be able to better discern what, someone said above like truth claims, how do you discern whether a claim makes sense? A lot of it for me is if I’ve experienced it in real life that I’m able to extrapolate, does this claim make sense? I guess one thought is that the most pure form of media is real world experience.

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:29:46

Yeah. Like when I graduated high school, I felt a huge pressure when I was in high school to keep up with the news and read a bunch of media to make myself feel more informed. But when I started working full-time on CU and didn’t have that pressure, I realized that the less media I read, the more I was actually informed because I was able to use it to just as a piece of my worldview, instead of use it to create my world view. And I think that more and more because the media has seeped and entered every part of our lives. It can only tell us a part of the story of whatever’s going on and they’ll never be the full story. And I think like Gary said, you kind of just have to use your lived experience to interpret it and use it as like a puzzle piece instead of the entire picture of the world.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:30:36

This is making me really appreciate New York because New York. Yeah, it’s not the same, there’s definitely an ideological slant of New York, but it’s still extremely diverse with a lot, even on the traditional political spectrum. So you’re going to be able to bump into people and talk to people that have all sorts of perspectives on all sorts of issues.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:31:01

Well, off that vein, I used to live in rural Alabama. So as you can imagine, there wasn’t a whole lot of diversity of thought or opinion there. So in that sense, I wasn’t able to use my worldview and my interactions with humans to really diversify the experience I was getting and the worldview and the viewpoint I had on what was going on current events wise. And in that case, I had to turn to a lot of media because it was like, I was either getting Fox news word barfed at me, or I had to find it in other sources. So I guess in that case, it really depends on where you are and what your community is like. But as for the question specifically, of course the media I consume is biased, but I think it’s knowing that it is biased when you consume it. That makes all the difference because if you go in blind and you believe that everything you read and consume is truthful then you’re just digging your grave in that sense. But I try to diversify the media. I consume as I’m sure many of us do. And I think that that’s one of the best and only things we can really do and to put yourself in social media wise, an echo chamber of one viewpoint and one ideology. Other than that, like Justin was saying, there’s really not a whole lot you can do.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:32:55

Elena. That’s really interesting. Cause I kind of grew up on the opposite spectrum of that. And I still do like I’m from Massachusetts and which is very different from rural Alabama. I feel like I didn’t realize until maybe around middle school, how much I was just hearing one side of things. And I think I agree, it’s really hard to diversify your media and what’s even harder is realizing that you have to in the first place. And so I didn’t take that step until I feel like later than I should have. And so I wonder how that happens with people or if it does.

Allison Su – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged:  00:33:42

Yeah a similar experience kind of happens to me because at my school we don’t usually talk about how media is and in my school is really one kind of ideology. And so it was kind of hard for me to know different people’s perspectives. And so for me, I try to read different kinds of media. There’s a conservative side of media and there’s much more progressive side of media. I try to balance it out and then try to find a balance in between if that makes sense. But yeah, definitely agree that community does affect how you perceive and everything.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:34:28

I think it’s community alongside education. I remember in elementary school we were told that there were certain websites that were absolutely foolproof and they weren’t biased and you could always go to them. And they would be factual, like that was your research project. And it wasn’t until I was listening to a lecture that was like it kind of solidified a thought that should have been clearer, but it’s like, no one can write or have a message that is objective, like everything is subjective to an individual. And so once you’re able to recognize that I think that’s only part of realizing even that some of media is biased. Cause I think at least personally the education system taught me up until middle school that there were some websites that if I went to would tell me all the information I needed and growing up in a relatively obviously a polarized world, but also a community that took a very specific stance on stuff. It was weird to have the transition of being told one thing and then realizing almost the exact opposite as I got older, cause the sites aren’t actually full-proof or what I was told. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:35:45

Yeah. I think what we’re getting out about community is really at the core of this. One of the quotes that I really like is that change happens at the dinner table, which obviously it’s not just about family, it’s about friends and everyone you interact with. And I had a similar experience to Elena. I live in rural Oklahoma, I have my entire life. And so I think for a while I wasn’t able to gain different perspectives by my experiences until I joined CU. I think that’s kind of the beauty of it too. And why I really appreciate the CU community and new emerging digital first spaces, because you don’t have to just be in the same geographical location to learn from someone. And so really think all of that CU has afforded me those opportunities and hope that it is in that space for other people as well.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:36:31

I will say that I went to a school where we had an entire English unit dedicated to how to address bias and be self-aware or combat that. And walking out of that unit, I recognize the fact that there was no way I was ever going to use any of the things that they suggested that we use. They’re either time consuming or take a lot of critical thinking and that level of it’s not a process that’s applicable to real life. But one thing that I do practice that’s been really helpful is a assuming that there’s no such thing as unbiased media content, like Noor said, and then being aware of my own biases and the things that I construct being able to call myself out or understand why I may be inclined for one thing instead of the other, makes it easier to interpret how someone else might’ve undergone that same process and arrived at, this was the information that’s relevant. This is the commentary with highlighting all of those decisions are biased in some way or another. So I think it has very little to do with assessing what’s consumed, but assessing what we put out there as well.

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:37:48

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I don’t think there’s anything we as individuals who are not in control of these tech companies, media outputs, don’t have huge platforms can do, but I think there’s a real responsibility in these tech companies. Like let’s say Twitter or media companies like news media to make fundamental design choices that combat these really toxic outputs. It’s like, I read so much news that’s obviously biased towards one side and then they add the side of like this really radical outskirts opinion and make it seem like they’re both equal in stature. Right. And they’re like, Oh, that means we’re unbiased. Well, no, you just gave credence to a bunch of neo-Nazis and you equated their position down to something that most people believe or the other way around, you know? And then like Twitter, they make it easy for you to and fall into these algorithm traps of toxic radicalization. Like there’s a definite pipeline between LOL triggered liberal YouTube videos, and now you’re on Reddit, hating women for the rest of your life. So, we make it so easy to do that and we can’t really combat it, but I think there’s people who can and they just choose.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:39:13

One of the things it kind of reminds me of from the John Revicki series is the idea of herd mentality, like when it’s okay and when it isn’t. And so if it just so happens to be that like, you have solidified beliefs and what you believe to be is true, like art, claims that are true. And you’re surrounded by people who have the same beliefs who came about that themselves. And it just so happens to be that you’re in the same place. That type of herd mentality, I guess, is acceptable in his eyes. Whereas if it’s like, you’re following what someone is telling you based off of the fact that you didn’t necessarily come to that conclusion on your own is the type of herd mentality that’s negative, which I definitely think you’ve seen more of the ladder. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:40:09

I want to pose a provocation. That’s a bit in contradiction with what Thanasi proposed. I do think that with such massive industries are starting to gain momentums of power over lots of different things, including politics. How can we engage in media that will innovate it for the better?

Justin Horwitz – Founder/President, Really American PAC: 00:40:44

Get outside your comfort zone. Like go to the other side, engage with something, needs to happen to get us out of our bubbles. Otherwise we’ll keep diverting. Something needs to start a real dialogue amongst bubbles. That would be innovative to see something that constructively brought that together.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:41:11

Yeah. Well, I think we’re experimenting with it right now. I think a typical mental model of media is that it’s a consumer media where you’re not interacting at all with the creator of the media or other audience members. Right now we are all the and consumers of this. And I think that makes a big difference. And also the fact that we’re calling in from a dozen different States, like we have someone from Egypt, right? Like it does matter. And of course the fact that we’re literally talking about media as well is important.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:41:58

I agree, but at the same time it’s also very important to acknowledge that we’re a very self-selecting group of people. And somehow some way we were able to obtain the experiences that helped develop our self-awareness, but it’s extremely necessary to acknowledge that self-awareness, doesn’t develop in a vacuum and with there’s like a Goliath media industry that doesn’t want not only immediate industry, but all of these various intersecting realms of reality, they don’t want the greater population to develop that self-awareness that critical thinking, because then it leads to conversations like this conversations that kind of shake the establishment. So the question is how do you popularize a platform like this without it devolving a devolving into an echo chamber and without it already attracting the people that would already want to look outside their own bounds of reality and try to understand and empathize with the experiences of other people.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:43:26

I definitely agree with that. Another group that is doing this same sort of thing very well, in my opinion, is Jubilee. I think that they do a good job of trying to encourage civil and honest conversations about hard things. And I think that that is at the core of what we’re all trying to say right now is you have to get outside of your comfort zone and your echo chamber and talk to people in a civil way, because we all know that getting into a Twitter fight with someone is not going to change their mind, and it’s not going to change your mind and it’s not going to benefit either of you. All that’s going to do is just make your day a little worse. And I think that that is something everyone needs to work on, but especially our generation, I find it really hard as someone who is very passionate about and works a lot on nonpartisan reform and pushing the sort of non-partisan agenda of trying to not be holed into one of two parties. It’s really hard when we are falling into that trap of partisanship within our media and within our social media of attacking one another and not empathizing, I think Angel said that you have to be willing to empathize and hear people out. And I think that’s got to be number one on the priority list if we’re trying to make media better or at least understand who everyone is.

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:45:25

Yeah. I think I’m about to say something that might come back to bite me in 20 years, but I don’t think the way to make things better is to have everybody have a self-awakening, cause it’s never going to happen. We got into this mess by having algorithms that made people think a certain way and separate people and put them into echo chambers and the algorithms did this and whether or not it was a planned or a by-product like it it’s we’re here. So what I’ve been thinking a lot about is let’s take AOC, right? A lot of people hate, or a lot of people love her. She has millions of followers, but she only has like 10,000 different archetypes of humans that follow her. And then they’re all get pushed in a bubble and they all go in one direction. So the question I have is what happens if someone builds a media organization and how moral is it if someone builds a platform where it uses the algorithms to push everybody in the right direction and the right direction being maybe you interact, maybe you think in a certain way, that’s better for everybody. But the algorithms pushed us all into these echo chambers that make us fight and it makes hate each other. And it makes us believe certain things. And I think that there are a good amount of Americans who don’t care about politics and are manipulated into thinking a certain way and can just as easily be manipulated into thinking another way with an algorithm. So how moral is it to manipulate them in the right way? 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:46:54

I think that it’s worth posing the conversation of morals and media and what that dynamic is. But in response to what was just said, I think that if there’s one golden rule to follow, when it comes to media and morals, it’s definitely that there needs to be a diversity of morals and perspectives, or you’re instantaneously engaging in something that’s counterproductive and cultivating of a mindset that’s not well-informed and just pushing people into believing the same thing. And the thing is because of the way that media has grown so substantially recently, there’s not enough guidelines or discussions around, how can you engage in an ethical code moral behavior in social platforms and media.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:47:55

Cool. I think this is good timing to go ahead and move on to the reflection section. So I’m going to copy a link of these notes here and send them to the chat so that you all can look at what we’ve talked about. And once you have your reflection, you can shout it out and I’ll write it down. I guess I can go ahead and get us started. I think what this really solidified for me is what role people play in shaping opinions as opposed to media? I’m not sure how many times my opinion has been changed by a certain piece of media or just a couple pieces of media. All the times when I think when my opinion’s been changed, it’s been either by personal experience or experience with someone else that I’ve known for an extended period of time. And it obviously not, I like the format of a debate, but they’re actual, genuine conversation rooted in understanding. And so that was just really solidified for me.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:49:15

I want to second that I had my family had some tense conversations this summer about all sorts of things. But it was once we started to actually have a routine of talking out things and trying to achieve understanding and talk about where we were getting our media and all that, where everyone sort of deradicalized, it was really interesting to see. This is why I placed so much faith in kind of nicely structured dialogue in allowing us to be sort of better people that are better able to receive information and use it in ways that are useful.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:50:11

Reflecting upon all of the personal stories that have been shared today. I definitely think that I don’t know if my mind has been changed, but I feel like my opinions have been reaffirmed that change when it comes to the media is definitely grassroots, but at the same time it’s dangerous to just leave it all to the people. When it is the top, like Thanasi kept bringing up the algorithms that have corralled us into these toxic mindsets. So I think that while grassroots, it’s also necessary to hold the puppeteers accountable for the mess that we are currently in, as it pertains to dialogue you know, humane, empathetic dialogue.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:51:11

As we were talking about this, I kind of was thinking about, are there ethics and a moral code to the internet and the media. And I don’t really think there is. And also, I don’t know if there’s a real movement or anything to make that happen, but even if people want it to happen. So that’s just kind of what I’m reflecting. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:51:47

I think to Leora’s point, as someone who’s interested in going into journalism, at least for the next four years I think it’s cool that as the most empathetic generation, there’s a way that we could shape the media and what it would turn into. Because I think that in the same way that we’ve become desensitized to media, we’ve become desensitized to the word echo chamber. Like it comes up so often, but I don’t think I realized how scary it was until you really think about it and it’s like, you really are hearing nothing else. And so as someone who wants to go into that I think it puts the power back into your hands, which is comforting to have.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:52:33

Going off of what Noor said. I feel like all of us in practice recognize our own biases and like, Oh, it’s important to have diverse perspectives and get out of our comfort zones. But in actual conversation, I feel like we all shy away from it. And especially on social media, I feel like we’ve seen the rise of cancel culture instead of actually engaging in dialogue with other people, we kind of just were like, Nope, canceled it’s over. And I feel like people have a hard time in practice kind of engaging in these dialogues across different ideologies and myself included. Definitely. So I think that’s something reflecting on this conversation that I want to kind of explore more and figure out how to engage in those conversations more productively.

Allison Su – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:53:16

I agree with Maryam. I think our generation does have a chance in shaping the media, like what Noor said, but I feel like it really depends on our generation if we are willing to have these kinds of conversations, if we are willing to know different people’s echo chambers or perspectives, et cetera. But I feel like it really depends on how we move things forward, essentially with media and everything. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:53:36

I was reflecting on a few of the questions that we had that revolved around combating bias and just how we respond to it. And so much of what everyone said, had to do with how we engage with it as individuals. But not only how we engage with it, but also what our goal is or what the objective is and that engagement. So it shouldn’t be about trying to garner the perspective or argue with someone and say, yes, I’m right, no, you’re wrong, but it should really just be for the sake of exposure. And continuously popping your own bubble of thinking that you have a foundational understanding of everything. I think driving home, the point of seeing that there is no such thing as unbiased content is just a really good thing to do over time.

Justin Horwitz – Founder/President, Really American PAC: 00:54:57

I really liked what Noor had to say. But reflecting on this conversation I am encouraged as somebody who has spent the last, like four years on these platforms, way too much, it’s really depressing. And they become really counter-productive to everything like a healthy society needs, but it truly is in your hands, everything. And I mean, the future is yours. And the problems we face are serious. And I truly believe that these companies and these algorithms have created problems that are going to get worse before they’re going to get better. But the great news is the fact what you guys have even put together here, just the way you’re able to communicate with one another is incredibly encouraging to watch and inspiring, frankly. It’s awesome.

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 00:56:24

I think this conversation has really shown me how much more, I just personally need to think and learn about all the aspects of media and everything it touches, but the point that Gary and Madison and Angel, and pretty much everybody made about how media is just an extension of your personal experience and how it shapes the way you view the world is super interesting because I feel like if we can figure out a way to get everybody in the same universe then we can start having substantive conversations about how to make the universe better. And that grounding principles is something that’s going to guide me through whatever I learn next.

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 00:57:03

I think that a theme throughout this that’s really stuck to me is the theme of desensitized as in being desensitized by media. And just like, we’re kind of desensitized by the headlines or we’ve kind of been desensitized by the word echo chamber and we don’t really stop and think about that. I think that we need to make sure that we don’t do that for the phrase that Chabu said there is no such thing as unbiased content because the moment we take that for granted, and we don’t start thinking about that as we don’t think about that critically, we don’t take that as serious or as important to remember. That’s when we’re going to start falling down that trap that we are trying to keep ourselves out of. So just trying not to get too desensitized, I think is something I’m definitely going to take away from this. Definitely trying to bring more empathy into the things I read and the media I consume.

Kirolos Stalat – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:58:18

In my point of view the media is different from one person to another. One person could receive it in a way that could impact him one way, and another person could, just hear it from this ear and get out from this ear. And the media has been more, not authentic. And nowadays could talk about real news, could some talk about not fake news. So I think that it’s maybe impactful, but not authentic.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:59:03

I liked the last question of how we can engage in media that will innovate for the better, it’s definitely something I’m going to ponder on because obviously the first step is recognizing and discussing issues and it’s crazy important, but then seriously thinking about how we can approach this and action items is interesting because obviously media is so tied in with the internet now, and that’s a huge issue to approach. So I just really like that question. I think it’s a good conversation to keep at the forefront. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:59:34

Yeah. Thank you all so much for joining us again, such a good conversation. This is actually our second Trek on media, but I already know this was very different from the last one we did, because we did it as one of our first ones. But yeah, if there’s no other comments, I think we can go ahead and wrap up Gary anything.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:59:59

Well this is an experiment with a larger group. This is definitely on the higher end of what we would want, I think, but anyone have thoughts on the biggest Trek we’ve had so far?

Thanasi Dilos – Co-founder, Civics Unplugged: 01:00:20

I think it went great. I feel like it wasn’t too messy and speaking over each other like big zoom webinars usually are. So I think it went pretty well.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 01:00:37

Agreed. I haven’t been able to go to one and in a few weeks, but I think just based on the last one I was at the vibe in terms of being able to add to the conversation was pretty much the same. 

Elena Ashburn – Host, “Mission Control 2030: The Voice of Civics Unplugged” Podcast: 01:00:58

I’d say that the last one we went to was the mental health a long time ago. But I liked this because I liked hearing all of the diversity of thought and opinion that we had and I find myself wanting to say something, but someone else would say something and it would make me change how I thought, like the idea that I had. And I think that’s kind of the point is you want to look at your ideas differently and your thoughts differently.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:01:24

Well, that’s a great point, Elena. I didn’t even think about that as a benefit of having so many people, like talking less just means you get to listen more. And the fact that it’s changing what you’re thinking right before you’re about to say it, but so cool. So yeah, Gary, we should keep experimenting with larger and smaller groups for different conversations. But yeah. Thank you, Justin, for joining us. Great to have you as a guest loved hearing from you. Yes. A little clap for Justin.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:01:58

Yeah. All right. Thank you, Justin. Thank you everyone. Always fun to do these sort of spontaneous ones scheduled during the day. All right. Thank you, Madison, for organizing as always take care. Bye.

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