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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: The reinforcement of your own personal echo chamber

Toronto Police arrest  Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, after a last year's van attack on Yonge St. He's accused of killing 10 people.
Toronto Police arrest Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, Ont., after last year’s van attack on Yonge Street in Toronto. He’s accused of killing 10 people and attempting to kill 16 others. — Postmedia News file photo

It’s easy to see.

You can try it for yourself with the current federal election.

Using only your social media contacts, decide who is going to win the election.

Why, your candidate and party, of course, because you’ve curated yourself a coterie of the like-minded.

Your Facebook friends are family, real-life friends and likeminded acquaintances.

Your hard-line right-wing uncle who’s now a member of the People’s Party of Canada? Maybe you’ve taken to hiding his posts because you find them offensive. Or, maybe, you agree with him completely and, online, more and more of your contacts share that particular view.

It’s human nature: if you’re having a party, you don’t generally invite people you don’t like.

And when you do have that party, you might just spend some of your time trashing the people you don’t like and didn’t invite.

Either way, you build yourself a club, and that club becomes something of a two-way street. You reinforce the club’s overriding opinions with your comments (and sometimes enjoy that sharp little flame of self-congratulation when someone praises your particularly brutal attack on outsiders), and it reinforces and justifies yours in return, even if, in the cold, hard light of day, the position you’re defending might look ludicrous or even dangerous to an objective outside observer.

Faced with a steady daily diet of “We’re all supporting Politician X,” you might find it inconceivable when Politician X actually loses — you might even decide that something untoward had happened, and that Politician X was the victim of a conspiracy. Because it was clear to you that X should have won.

It’s human nature: if you’re having a party, you don’t generally invite people you don’t like.

Everyone in your echo chamber, left or right, agrees. Positions harden on both sides. Climate change is a huge crisis — climate change is fake. Whatever side you pick, the echo chamber you’ve picked agrees as well.

Now, take that disturbingly further.

Late last week, the courts in Ontario released interviews done by police with Alek Minassian, the driver of a van charged with killing 10 people and attempting to kill 16 others in a driving rampage in Toronto in April 2018.

Minassian told police that he was trying to “inspire an uprising” and that he felt “like I had accomplished my mission.”

Minassian felt slighted and ignored by women; unable to find sexual partners, he saw himself as part of the incel movement, the involuntarily celibate. And, online, he found a community of the like-minded on internet message boards, people who felt equally slighted and had an equal desire for revenge.

Among them, apparently, two men who would go on murderous incel-related rampages — Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and then himself in an attack on students at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Chris Harper-Mercer, who killed 10 and injured seven at a community college in Oregon before killing himself.

Why would we be surprised?

Think about it: spend a large amount of time with a group who blames a particular group for something, and you get convinced. Of course Politician X was robbed. Of course it’s fake news. Of course the Democrats/Republicans/Conservatives/Liberals are lying. Of course it’s time that someone paid for that.

Propaganda works.

On social media Friday, as details of Minassian’s police interviews were made public, there were already people using stories about Minassian to attack Justin Trudeau, for example, claiming that Trudeau would “pardon” Minassian as soon as possible — a power that no prime minister actually has, not to mention that Minassian hasn’t even had a trial yet.

And like-minded people within the same echo chamber? They were applauding someone “telling the truth about Trudeau.”

It’s frightening — and I’m afraid there’s very little anyone can do about it.

It’s too late to close the barn door.

Some of the wild horses have weapons and a lust to use them.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire publications across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky


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