The Myths of the “Social Media Bubble” and “Echo Chamber”

Let’s play a game from our childhood: What’s wrong with this picture? Many would like you think that currently,the world looks like the picture above. Now, obviously it can’t look exactly like this. No one posts or tweets only to themselves.

But you’ve probably heard that the Left are in one bubble and the Right in the other bubble, and a firewall keeps everyone out, except for the Russian hackers. That’s what this is about, right? The media spins a narrative of nefarious forces sending the bait of “fake news” into the Left bubble (and only the Left-side bubble) to hook voters and lure them to the dark side.

I’m increasingly convinced that the terms “social media bubble” and “echo chamber” were coined to discourage people from using social media to spread their ideas. Why would I be motivated to even write this article if it were only to be read by people who agree with me?

So let me lay out my case that neither of these terms describe reality. Most easily dismissed is “echo chamber”. The idea is that you supposedly only tweet or post to people you agree with and they all come and validate your opinion telling you how right you are, echoing your opinion back to you.

Balderdash! I dare one Twitter user to prove to me that is their experience. It’s a myth! Rarely does conversation remain free of dissenting opinions.

Additionally, when you send out tweets, good ones, they will get re-tweeted — presumably re-tweeted to someone who does not have the exact set of followers as you. That’s a ripple, not an echo. Some parts of the ripple get bounced back. Some move further along before meeting resistance.

3-D Venn Diagrams — Made of Bubbles!

Now for the “Bubble”. Imagine you’re in a bubble made up of all you follow on Twitter or Facebook. You are in the middle; the accounts that mirror your beliefs most closely (and no one does precisely, do they?) are closest to the center of that sphere.

Then imagine the people that you follow holding the fewest beliefs in common on the outside of that circle — “on the bubble”. Now realize that we all have our own unique “bubble” of followed accounts and none of them are the same — they intersect in multiple ways.

The people you follow that have about 50/50 in common with you are going to have people on the outside of their bubble that fall even further away from you on the ideological spectrum. Now consider all the re-tweets that may come your way via all these intersections. Not to mention, every time you view a trending hashtag, you meet all stripes. (Please tell me that’s a safe term. Is that racist against zebras?)

Most of us follow from the following categories:

  1. Those we totally agree with (a very small club if it exists at all)
  2. Those mostly agree with (For me that’s people like Dinesh D’Souza, Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder.)
  3. Those who are about 50/50 and we follow because they’re interesting and sometimes funny. (For me, that’s people like @iowahawkeyeblog, Roger Stone, Alan Dershowitz.)
  4. Those we mostly disagree with but are an expert in a field in which we’re interested (For me, that’s Richard Dawkins, Dan Carlin-Hardcore History, and
  5. Those we completely disagree with that we follow for kicks and to re-tweet with our comments. (The obvious ones: Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, George Soros.)

These categories probably describe most of our followed list, to varying degrees, and if we’re smart, we also include things like.

  • Some of our kids’ idols so we keep up with what might be in their feed.
  • Some local news stations from around the country because stories get their first and don’t always make it to the national news.
  • If you have kids heading to college, follow some campus newspapers to get a clue of what they might be in for.
  • Follow your representatives in State and US Congress! This is a must.

All that said, how can there possibly be a bubble in which I’m contained that keeps me completely “safe” from ever hearing a reasonable dissenting opinion. Just last night I read a wonderful National Review article that shifted me a bit, I have to say. And “shifting” describes what’s been happening all over the country and continues to happen.

Millions of voters in 2016 did not jump completely from one “bubble” to another “bubble”. When we go through a change of mind, sometimes it’s a “red pill moment”. But those red-pillers will probably tell you that there were micro-shifts along the way and something just finally brought them to a tipping point.

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