The “Online Echo chamber” may be our most dangerous threat yet

We must first start by defining what the “echo chamber” really is: The Oxford dictionary defines it as: “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.” Now, doesn’t that faultlessly describe the exact predicament our country finds itself in?

So much of what people take in daily is through social media; it’s an unpretentious fact. Whether it’s videos on TikTok or disinformation through Facebook, there is, merely, no way of going back to the past. Social media is here to stay, but now I ask, daily: how do we find a way to avoid partitioning ourselves into this utilitarian chamber? For that, I turned to Hannah Weston, who wrote a piece titled, “Online Echo Chambers are deepening American’s Ideological Divide.”

For many, social media is an integral part of our everyday lives. A study conducted by Pew Research this year revealed that 18 percent of Americans get the majority of their political news from social media. Of that 18 percent, approximately 48 percent are Gen Z or millennials.

Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook use computer algorithms that track users’ content preferences and interests, continuously feeding consumers posts tailored to their individual interests, consequently controlling what news people see on their feeds.

Consider, for example, a Twitter user who consistently interacts with conservative Tweets and accounts, such as President Trump’s. The algorithm will likely feed this particular user right-wing news and content that aligns with their ideology and confirms their biases. Thus, they only engage with like-minded people. Users across the ideological spectrum exist in virtual echo chambers that amplify their beliefs.

Our social media feeds become our personally curated realities.

Existing in an echo chamber feels comfortable. There is little incentive to break out of our cozy online bubbles. Except, perhaps, that echo chambers are poisonous to our democracy.

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer.

What I found particularly beguiling about this concept is that social media, in the confines of obstinate influence, can take over and make decisions for people — especially young people, and others who are not aware of how formidable social media’s influence is on ideologies. The echo chamber even allows for people to experiment in the boundaries of their own doubt. Here’s an advantageous example: if a person is wrestling on whether they might feel more conservative, but due to family influence, they must remain liberal. It’s almost as though the social echo chamber allows people to experience freedom from a clandestine inclination. Now, in some cases, this can be a useful practice when utilized properly. In my mind, there’s no issue with experimenting with ideologies and searching for what formulates one’s beliefs; but, as Weston points out, it depends on where you might be getting your information.

However, social media’s role in building momentum for political and social justice movements cannot be discounted. Approximately 80 percent of U.S. adults believe social media platforms are very or somewhat effective at raising public awareness about political and social issues. Similarly, 65 percent say social media can get politicians to pay attention to certain issues.

So, maybe we should not completely abandon social media. But we do need to become more conscious consumers of media.

We can continue to share infographics and information regarding various political and social issues, but we should not rely solely on social media for our news and should work on making our feeds more heterogeneous. Diversifying the content, we consume is even more important during an election season, especially one in which campaigning is primarily digital.

I simply can’t get over that fact: over 80 percent of U.S. adults believe social media platforms raise public awareness about political and social issues. How is this possible? I have seen videos on social media that feature a young guy or a girl giving a narrative on why “Trump is the best president ever because he cares about white people…” I’ve also seen videos making fun of our current President for having a stutter, or jumping over a sentence because he’s nearly 80 years old. The other part of Weston’s revelation is also menacing: 65 percent say social media gets politicians to pay attention to certain issues. This one bothered me: what world are people living in? We know, profoundly, that politicians are influenced by their funding. There’s an intrinsic desire for politicians to care for their communities, to reach out to the constituents to try and promote change; but, at the end of the day, we all have to accept that we vote for candidates based on a platform. We know this to be accurate because we’ve seen vicious battles play out on social media: Republicans will promote Pro-life and let you keep your guns; Democrats will take em’ and let them immigrants in!

I believe it’s borderline impertinent to even suggest that people still care about the candidates. Look how people on social media treated Joe Biden during the election: well, at least he ain’t Trump. Come on. People now vote on what they are hostile to on their social media feed. On a daily basis, you might see a person post a GIF of something impractical from a movie, and then try to provide a connotation of significance. Just today, I saw something on Twitter where a person made a GIF with a kid on a broken, busted-up bike careering towards a ramp he was using to jump over a car. The title of the GIF: “Live Footage of the Biden Admin. Rolling out their plan to reopen schools.” Seriously, what is that?

Any likelihood to come together as a country? To the author of that GIF: was it not possible to write, “I am hoping our country will come together and reopen schools. We need this for our country.” Doesn’t even the suggestion of decency make you shudder a little?

Reunifying the nation is not the sole responsibility of any one candidate; it is a responsibility that we all bear. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is by diversifying our social media feeds.

Is it possible to surmise Trump brought us all this animosity? Sure, but that’s a cop-out. He brought us melancholy, abhorrent rhetoric, and dysfunction; shouldn’t our society be better than this? So, then you might say to me: it’s a Republican problem; Democrats don’t behave that way. I’ll give you this reaction: “Dems” do tend to be more centered on etiquette and decorum. Conversely, I have seen plenty of Democrats stoop to wretched levels on social media — particularly when provoked by conservatives. We all know that if you go check a Twitter feed; you will see, at times, hundreds of responses afterwards (some of which are unfathomable).

So, right now, I am unquestionably pessimistic about how we fix the issue. The social media leaders have no intention to restructure and people have no desire to read a lackluster article in the local newspaper describing the issues inflicting their communities. They seem more inclined to log into their addicting social media platform and see if a few of their followers are lamenting their relationship deficiencies or whether or not there was a major misfortune in our nation. It has been become pretty clear after four years of total dysfunction and ineptitude; why change now? Just log in and saturate before using

Works Cited:

1. Weston, Hannah. “Online Echo Chambers are deepening American’s Ideological Divide.” Media File. September 23, 2020. http://www.mediafiledc.com/online-echo-chambers-are-deepening-americas-ideological-divide/. Accessed February 17, 2021.

CA-based, perpetually hopeful for the progress of society… Follow me on Twitter @andrewnintzel22

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