Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
Asymmetry in News and Social Media
The dialogue offered a rare opportunity for Georgetown students to interact with peers from three different Chinese universities. Over a span of three weeks, we discussed a range of topics from climate change to geopolitical challenges. The most fruitful insights for me, though, came from our conversations on a more fundamental topic: where do we get our information?
Students produced different answers as expected. After all, between Georgetown and the Chinese universities lie barriers of various kinds, some easier to traverse than others. None of the participants seemed surprised that differences in sources of information would exist. The unexpected part was that the two sides did have equal knowledge about the content of the differences. Namely, students from Chinese universities seemed much more well-informed about the sources Georgetown students used, not only for the purpose of news and analyses but also for entertainment. Georgetown students, on the other hand, were moderately aware of the main official Chinese news sources, while largely unaware of the plethora of Chinese social media platforms. Hence a large portion of our discussion on sources could be characterized as a tour of the Chinese internet landscape. Students from Chinese universities introduced the popular usage of each platform, compared the platforms’ pros and cons, and even compiled lists of their favorite accounts to follow. Additionally, they shared Chinese books, music, movies, and TV shows that had informed their thoughts. A few of the more classic ones rang a bell for Georgetown students studying Chinese, but the more recent ones were new to most.
This observation raises a number of questions: how and why did the asymmetry described above arise? It may be that Georgetown students are just exceptionally underinformed and students from the three Chinese universities exceptionally informed about the differences in our sources, but that seems unlikely, and my hunch is that the observation may well generalize beyond the context of this dialogue. Is it important to address the asymmetry? Compared to many more pressing issues in U.S.-China relations grabbing headlines every day, the question of who knows where to look for headlines (and other information) could be easily sidelined. Not to mention that the benefits would likely be diffused among the public, while the costs would concentrate on those who set out to address the asymmetry. Who would do such a thing? If there really are such people or organizations, what should they do?
At this point, I am reminded that this dialogue, which showed me the asymmetry, was itself an attempt to bridge the information gap across the Pacific, so are many in-person exchange programs put on hiatus due to the pandemic. These attempts allow participants to interact as full people, who may indeed hold diametrically opposed views on certain issues, yet always nonetheless share something in common. For us college students who share similar routines, struggles, and joy, that commonality is especially easy to find. Perhaps it is exactly on the basis of our commonality that we can most smoothly navigate our differences.
Lin Gan (C'23) is a sophomore at Georgetown University majoring in International Political Economy, with minors in Psychology and Mathematics.
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