If You Were Locked Inside an Echo Chamber, Would You Ask for the Key?

How do you know that you are inside an echo chamber, if you have never been outside of it? In other words, how do you open your mind to opposing view points, when you have been surrounded by like-minded people your whole life?

The political activists of today deal with this problem, especially after the recent presidential election of Donald Trump, when the entirety of the country seemed to divide into two.

If political activists wish to share their views behind the comfort of their very own screen, then they can rely on social media sites to do so. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Youtube are among the big-named social media sites for political activists to use. And with the recent presidential election, politically surged posts are coming in droves.

Posts were posted, comments were commented, and ‘friends’ were ‘unfriended’. And there was no shortage of heated discussions.

But the problem with discussions is that Facebook allows censoring. Users are able to report posts and delete their own comments. And if users are sick of seeing posts they don’t like, then they can simply unfollow ‘friends’. These users are also in luck, because Facebook has an algorithm designed to suit each user’s interests. Explained in an article from Wired titled, “Blame the Echo Chamber on Facebook. But Blame Yourself, Too” — Facebook has an algorithm, that narrows each user’s content that are similar to posts from people they are ‘friends’ with and posts that they ‘like’. This unfortunately can create an “echo chamber,” which can be defined as an environment or group of people that share information, ideas, or beliefs that are amplified or reinforced through repetition and communication with each other.

In a research paper called “Echo Chambers on Facebook,” social scientists Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonio Scala, and Cass Sunstein found quantitative evidence of how Facebook users seek out information that strengthened their preferred narratives and rejected information that undermined it. From this study, they found that when users were introduced to deliberately false information in their echo chamber, that information was still comprehended and understood as credible, as long as it conformed with their primary narrative. They also found that even when information deemed more “truthful” opposed falsehoods, either that information was ignored or it reinforced the users’ false beliefs.

So although users were presented with information that was blatantly false, the mere fact that it was information within their own echo chamber didn’t stop them from believing it. This finding is striking, but at the same time, not surprising.

The psychology of confirmation bias is a major factor that fuels the echo chamber. Confirmation bias is when people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, so they end up believing it to be true. Individuals in echo chambers are motivated by wishful thinking, and because of this, they stop gathering information when the evidence they already gathered confirms thee views (or prejudices) they would like to be true.

So how can one avoid unhealthy discussions, confirmation bias, and living in an echo chamber? Here are some tips:

  • If you want to ‘unfriend’ a Facebook friend — Don’t let the reason be that they posted something you disagree with
  • Seek out disagreement — Be open to discussions with views that you disagree with
  • Step out of your comfort zone — Try and stay away from discussions that are familiar and comfortable to you
  • View un-biased media — Read objective pieces of text

Following these tips will not only lead to personal growth, but they will help you to have a more tolerant and open-mind. Facebook’s algorithm may be our greatest obstacle when trying to view media objectively, but how we chose to actively search and seek out information, will be our greatest aid.

Sources

Emba, Christine. “Opinion | Confirmed: Echo Chambers Exist on Social Media. So What Do We Do about Them?” The Washington Post. WP Company, 14 July 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

Hosanagar, Kartik. “Blame the Echo Chamber on Facebook. But Blame Yourself, Too.” Wired. Conde Nast, 25 Nov. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

“New to Canva? Sign Up!” Amazingly Simple Graphic Design Software — Canva. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.

“The Comfort of My Own Private Echo Chamber.” Thoughts, Snapshots & Pornographies. N.p., 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.

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