Featured Science, IT, Nature — 18 December 2017

The effect, that an echo chamber has, reinforces a person’s own present world view, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is, says Marc in his evaluation of yet another modern phenomenon.

Echo chamber
Image source: Eli Pariser, “Beware Online Filter Bubbles”

The average internet user is now on social media and messaging services for over 2 hours a day. This shows the central role of social media in the daily lives of today’s internet users.

In the news media, the term echo chamber is analogous to an acoustic echo chamber where sounds reverberate in a hollow enclosure. An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system.

Inside a figurative echo chamber, official sources often go unquestioned, and different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented. The echo chamber effect reinforces a person’s own present world view, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is. Another emerging term for this echoing and homogenizing effect on the Internet within social communities is cultural tribalism.

The Latin term tribus means “A group of persons forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor.” The term tribe or digital tribe is used as a slang term for an unofficial community of people who share a common interest, and usually who are loosely affiliated with each other through social media or other Internet mechanisms.

Nowadays, it looks more like a virtual community or a personal network and it is often called ‘global digital tribe’. The tribes are divided into clans, with their own customs and cultural values that differentiate them from activities that occur in ‘real life’ contexts. People now can collaborate, communicate, celebrate, commemorate, give their advice and share their ideas around these virtual clans. People feel more inclined to share and defend their ideas on social networks than they would dare to say to someone face to face.

The 2016 presidential election in the United States triggered a stream of discourse about the echo chamber in media. Constituents were more likely to absorb information about topics such as gun control and immigration that aligned with their pre-existing beliefs, as they were more likely to view information they already agreed with. Facebook is more likely to suggest posts that are congruent with your standpoints; therefore there was mainly repetition of already stable standpoints instead of a diversity of opinions. Journalists argue that diversity of opinion is necessary for true democracy as it facilitates communication, and echo chambers, like those occurring on Facebook, inhibited this.

Eli Pariser, the author of The Filter Bubble (How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think) shows that the echo chamber is clearly harmful to the public’s awareness of important issues, as it actually limits who can discover information about certain current events. Further, situations where people are only exposed to information that reinforces their current beliefs cause polarization, because individuals become more convinced of their correctness when they are not seeing a diverse set of expert opinions.

How to get out of your echo chamber? Meditate, listen to your own echoing opinions and laugh about your repetitive thoughts. It’s just a bubble.

MarcMarc is a regular contributor

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Conflicting views on social media balanced by an algorithm – Published in Science Daily on December 5, 2017

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