Echo Chambers on Social Media

echo chamber

As we approach the presidential election, I’ve noticed the political activity on my social media feeds rapidly increasing. I can’t spend 15 seconds scrolling through Twitter or Facebook without seeing political articles, advertisements, comments, or arguments. Instagram is my only safe haven. One thing I also notice is that most of the content reflects a liberal, Democratic perspective.

During an election season, the idea of the echo chamber becomes even more relevant than during other times. According to wikipedia, an echo chamber is defined as “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.” (For fun).

In layman’s, or social media terms, one would have an echo chamber if she chose only to follow or friend those with similar ideas and beliefs. Much has been written about social media’s impact on creating echo chambers.

I don’t think the Internet has made people any more likely to participate in an echo chamber–I would argue that people are even more likely to socialize in-person with people who share their viewpoints. The internet and social media do provide people a clear opportunity to shed their echo chamber and participate in dialogue with people with whom they disagree; however, many don’t take that opportunity.

According to a recent study by Facebook, “Nearly 30 percent of all the news content that people see in the News Feed cuts across ideological lines.” Additionally, “Nearly 25 percent of the news articles that people click on cut across ideological lines.” But I’d argue that many of those 25% are clicking to find out what those crazy (fill in the “other”) people are saying today.

On Facebook, for me, it comes down to whether I want to claim as friends people with beliefs I view as hateful, bigoted, or ignorant. I’ve recently had numerous opportunities to pare down my friends list as people have revealed themselves to be any of those adjectives. I increasingly find myself unfriending those who post content that I find offensive. I also am completely willing to ban posts from outlets like The Conservative Tribune from appearing on my social media feeds.

To counter my Facebook echo chamber, I choose to follow conservative outlets on Twitter that I may disagree with but at the same time consider legitimate. Through these accounts I keep myself informed about conservative and Republican perspectives while disallowing offensive content.

Do you think your social media accounts create an echo chamber? How often do you engage with or read content produced by those with a different view than yours?

8 comments

  1. Great post Caitlin. As you mentioned, in real life people tend to hang out with others that share similar interests and viewpoints. I do not think that social media creates an echo chamber any more than real life interactions do. There is still clearly an echo chamber though, as there is in real life. For me personally, I tend to only follow people on Twitter that I agree with. That can certainly create a kind of self-reinforcing bias. Making an effort to purposely follow some people with opposing views I think is a very good idea.

  2. This was a very informative post, as I had never heard of an echo chamber before. I can see social media allowing for a echo chamber, but I can also see it doing the opposite. Obviously it can be an echo chamber by just spreading the same content and ideas over and over on your timeline. The opposite however I think is interesting. I think people are more likely to disagree and oppose ideas online behind the screen as opposed to in person where people may not feel comfortable with controversy. I like that you follow other opposing views to yours online, it is smart! Thanks for the post!

  3. Very interesting post Caitlin! I think you made a great point as people easily tend to blame social media for what kind of information they see. This actually made me wonder if, in some way, apart from who you are friend with, what the platform’s algorithm really does (because no matter what, it must still be doing something). I then found that article http://fusion.net/story/131797/facebook-study-says-its-your-fault-not-theirs-if-your-feed-is-all-like-minded-friends/ based on study from Facebook (the same as you I believe), saying that Facebook’s algorithm “filters out 1 in 20 cross-cutting hard news stories that a self-identified conservative sees (or 5%) and 1 in 13 cross-cutting hard news stories that a self-identified liberal sees (8%)”. Therefore, it matters, but not so much in the end. It simply accelerate slowly selectivity and polarization.

  4. Really interesting posts. I like that you recognize the part individual users can play in what they see on social media. I think that social media can definitely create an echo chamber, but if people are aware of this phenomenon, they can act to make sure they keep an open mind online. I think this becomes an issue because people take pleasure in viewing content that they want to view and don’t necessarily recognize the value in entertaining other viewpoints.

  5. its interesting what we can learn about the political system (and what people actually care/think about) by scrolling thru our news feeds. Being that most of our peers are young and new to the world, it does not come as much of a surprise to be that a majority of what we ready leans left.
    I wonder what people are actually doing besides talking online. To you think they are activists out in the field fighting for change or they have a case of the “twitter fingers,” as drake would say.
    Also, great chart to start you post. I agree totally with its view. Bravo

  6. Awesome post! My roommates and I were having this discussion outside of a social media context the other day, essentially describing the dangers of having everyone agree with each other’s ideas. As humans, we tend to phase out what we don’t want to hear and slowly this creates said echo chamber. As social media is but an extension of the human network, it makes sense that these echo chambers would also occur there. As someone who does not like having political ideas thrown in my face I tend to just mute people on social media who are overly passionate, regardless of political leanings, which I think is just as dangerous as just listening to people who have the same ideas as myself. Overall, we are unable to empathize and understand people that are different from us and it is reflected in this election.

  7. Group think is just as alive and well in social media as it is in classrooms, conference rooms, and dorms. There are a few people in my network who I can count on to post political and international news stories and highlight pros and cons of said story, and they’ll often point out how the article changed their mind or perspective. While I do believe social media supports the echo chamber and behaviors of real life, I think social media also creates opportunities to learn from “non-bias” accounts or those with opposing opinions. If I use it in a smart thoughtful way, I might actually be exposed to more perspectives and ideas via social media than human interactions; however, without this post (on a larger scale – this class) I may not be prompted to do so.

  8. Cool graphic at the beginning and a very cool topic. While I had heard of this kind of phenomenon, I had never heard of the term “echo-chamber” before, thanks for the well-articulated lesson! While I’m not sure that SM directly creates echo chambers, I think it makes it that much easier to do so. It is incredibly easy to mute content that is purposely titled with outrageous headlines to provoke clicks. Like Sarah, I have a few friends on whom I rely to post informative articles with which I either will, or will not, agree and that include brief summaries of the points that they found interesting. I always enjoy blogs that end in questions, those are the best and most productive comments sections!

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