Arguments for the Echo Chamber

In the last year and a bit, three events have really hit me, and shown me how different the ‘majority’ are to me. The first was the stories winning the election in 2015. I was so sure Labour were going to win, even though the press made Ed Milliband a figure of fun. But loads of people on my Facebook was talking about voting for him, and so Cameron’s win was a big surprise. The second was Brexit. Everyone I spoke to was so sure it wouldn’t go through – everyone! Yet go through it did, (by 2%… not the howling majority people seem to imply now, but anyway…) and again, everyone surprised. Even the people who voted for it “just to see what happened” were a bit surprised. What a factory of lolz that vote turned out to be! The third thing, without wanting to sound like a stuck record, was Trump being elected to the White House. No one expected it, the majority of people didn’t vote for him, but there he is, hiring the movers ready for January.

“What a factory of lolz that vote turned out to be!”

The surprise is a result of a phenomenon known as “the echo chamber”. In news media, this term means ‘a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.’ (Wikipedia) Every day, we create our own echo chambers – through friends, social media, how we get our news, what we read and listen to.

This is nothing new, nor should we pretend it is.

“Social media forces us to come into contact with millions of strangers angrily opposing our points of view.”

Everyone has certain biases which guide them towards things or people they like, and away from things or people they don’t like. For example, my favourite colour is purple, so I will almost always favour a purple cushion, pen or jumper if given the choice. I don’t like the colour mustard, so I probably wouldn’t be drawn to any item in that colour. Before the advent of Facebook et al, chances are you stopped socialising with people who didn’t share your norms and values after you left school. But social media forces us to come into contact with millions of strangers angrily opposing our points of view.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for respecting the opinions of others, letting people have their say. It is certainly beneficial for your worldview to challenge your biases by listening to what people outside of your immediate circle are saying. For example, it’s brilliant for fresh thinking at work, and seeing things from a new angle. At the very least, it will stop you from being surprised when this sort of business happens. While I can totally see the benefit of mixing with people who see the world differently to you, I’m not 100% against the echo chamber in my own life.

“When I was at uni, a guy got drunk at a house party, called me a whore and tried to poke me in the eye with a lit cigarette. I didn’t then invite that guy to have tea and tiffin with me.”

I should point out, what I’m talking about here is social media, not the actual media. I think the actual media should report without prejudice or hostility or bias. But I think it’s natural that people should create these little cosy corners of the internet where we are liked and respected by people we get on with. That’s how people behave in real life. For example, when I was at uni, a guy got drunk at a house party, called me a whore and tried to poke me in the eye with a lit cigarette. I didn’t then invite that guy to have tea and tiffin with me. In fact, I never spoke to that dude again.

I have limited free time to do relaxing things: I work 8 hours a day, a have 1.5 hours worth of commuting, I sleep, I watch some quality TV, and I use social media. I cannot bear to spend any of that precious time reading someone berate another person for enjoying a movie, or calling someone a name for their political stance, or insulting a female celebrity for how she’s dressed. I can, however, make time for someone standing up for women’s rights, or calling out a racist, because I agree with that and it’s enjoyable for me.

I appreciate that maybe I am missing the opportunity for healthy debate, to change minds and win hearts. But in my experience, people on the internet are not looking for debate, they are looking to throw insults and hurt others (often under troll pseudonyms). I don’t blame one person who tries to shut out the noise when people say things that violate their beliefs and principles. Sometimes the debate is exhausting, especially when you’re just screaming into the void.

I’m respectful and I try to be kind, so why shouldn’t my space on the internet be safe and fluffy? Why should I read nasty, untrue Britain First posts shared by old school mates I haven’t seen for 15 years in the interest of representing other points of view on my timeline? Why should I be insulted and called names for my strong held beliefs?

Sometimes you just have to walk away, or you’d go crazy. Sometimes the echo chamber is a sanctuary.

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