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How Social Media Creates Echo Chambers

Echo chambers increase political and social polarization, encourage extremism, and can reverberate false information.

The echo chamber effect occurs online when a harmonious group of people mingles and develops tunnel vision. Participants in online discussions may find their opinions constantly echoed back to them, reinforcing their belief systems due to the declining exposure to other’s views. Thus, an echo chamber occurs when beliefs are reflected through communication and repetition inside a closed system that insulates them from rebuttal.

The biggest issue with the echo chamber effect on social media is that it reinforces existing beliefs by creating confirmation bias. Echo chambers increase political and social polarization, encourage extremism, and can reverberate false information.

While some researchers argue that the echo chamber effect on social media is less than anticipated, there is no denying that it does have an impact, especially in the realm of politics.

Understanding Echo Chambers Online:

The Internet opened the world and connected us in ways that were never thought possible. It created a mode of instantly gathering information about any topic we desire and allows access to political discourse that we may never have otherwise. As a political tool, the Internet is undoubtedly the star of the show, and with almost 4 billion people active on social media, it can be a fantastic source of information. But, unfortunately, much of the time, that information is merely our beliefs being repeated back to us.

An echo chamber is an environment where people only encounter information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own. These situations can perpetuate misinformation and distort perspective, making it difficult to digest or discuss complicated topics. Fueled in part by confirmation bias, echo chambers can happen anywhere that information is exchanged but commonly occur on social media.

Due to the Internet’s ability to quickly provide information on various topics and social media’s ability to provide information based on search results and preferences, echo chambers are a natural part of life online.

Social media allows us to find like-minded individuals easily and makes suggestions based on our current interests and search histories. The algorithm of social media is essentially set up to form echo chambers by pointing us towards the things that already hold our interest.

These algorithms form something that is called a filter bubble. Filter bubbles are created by tracking everything that you do online. Each time you click an ad, read a news article, or like a friend’s post, that information is stored in the cloud and used to provide you with related content. While this can be helpful if you are searching for a bed, for example, it can hinder your ability to see both sides of a coin and gain new information.

Stuck in a loop:

The biggest problem with echo chambers is your ability to notice them. Echo chambers are notoriously difficult to recognize, especially when you are in one. Billions of dollars are spent each year perfecting algorithms that allow websites to show you relevant information to your beliefs and interests. These algorithms then spew out information that matches things you have viewed in the past.

If you have ever been talking to a friend about a topic or product only to have ads related to that topic show up on your timeline, then you have experienced algorithms at work. Everything you say or do (both online and off) is used to create the ideal environment for you. So essentially, your experience in the online world is unique to you.  

While recognizing echo chambers can be difficult, there are a few ways to spot an issue.

If you think that you may be caught in an echo chamber, ask yourself:

  • Do I tend to see only one perspective?
  • Do solid facts from reputable sources support this perspective?
  • Does this idea ignore facts whenever they go against the current viewpoint?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be experiencing the echo chamber effect.

The Anti-Mask/Anti-Vaccine Echo Chamber:

The anti-mask/anti-vaccine movement provides the perfect example of the echo chamber effect in action. Despite being one of the most outstanding achievements of modern medicine, some believe that vaccines are harmful to our health and refuse to subject themselves to the process despite evidence to the contrary.

Coronavirus has reignited the ongoing anti-vax movement. Many people claim that vaccinations are a form of government control or are being used to implant us all with microchips to allow the government to follow and regulate our every move.  Although the risks of avoiding vaccines or not wearing a mask are consistently argued across media, some seem to ignore the warnings. This group is often armed with misinformation gathered online and continually claims to understand the underlying risk of masks and vaccinations.

While their arguments are often obviously flawed, they get their information somewhere, which is the problem with echo chambers. If you believe that masks are harmful to your health, you are likely to be connected with others that also think masks will harm your health – and the cycle continues, getting more profound with time.

In an article on Science alert, the authors outline the issues with the anti-vaccination movement. They highlight the use of a video titled “Plandemic” that claims the Covid pandemic was a government-created setup meant to distract us and that vaccines are filled with fancy-sounding poisons (which is not true) that are aiming to either track us or kill us.

 Unfortunately, social media has created a highly efficient “echo chamber” for anti-vaxxers to unite and share their outrage and misinformation. Despite laws governing false news on social media, stories of fetal matter within vaccines, reports of illnesses caused by masks, and word of government conspiracies about the origin of Coronavirus inevitably slip through and get shared endlessly.

How To Avoid The Echo Chamber Trap:

There is no sure way to avoid echo chambers. They exist in every realm where information is shared. Still, there are things that you can do to prevent misinformation and keep yourself in the know.

Check multiple sources: Checking numerous sources helps you catch discrepancies in information and stay informed. If something appears on various reputable news sites, it is more likely to be accurate than information that only appears in a single place.

Consider and engage with different perspectives: Disagreeing with others is a natural aspect of human life. In fact, disagreements open the door to learning and are the foundation of research. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone, but be sure to listen to their argument and check the facts that it provides before writing it off as invalid.

Understand that wanting something to be true does not make it accurate: Just because you want something to be true does not mean that it will be. Facts are a vital aspect of real news, and without them, you have only rumors. Evaluate information based on the facts, not simply because of how it is being presented or how much you want it to be correct.

Avoiding echo chambers can be a daunting task, especially in the world today. Arm yourself by practicing critical thinking and doing solid research. There is a great deal of misinformation out there, be sure of something before you share it to avoid adding to this already prevalent problem.  

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