What is the Echo Chamber Effect
As the reading for this week suggests, one of the key issues associated with the rise of personalized services is the creation of so-called “echo chambers”. This is a concept that generates considerable debate in both academic and popular discourse, so your task for this week is to look at both sides of the argument. The provided reading argues that the echo chamber effect is overstated, so your first task is to find another academic article that supports the echo chamber thesis. Once you have done this, you should write a response of 200-250 words that either supports or refutes the existence of the echo-chamber effect, based on what you have read in the two articles and your own personal experience.
The Echo Chamber Effect
In communication science, the echo chamber effect describes the fact that increased virtual interaction with like-minded people in social networks leads to a narrowing of the world view, leading to confirmation bias. An echo chamber is a social space in which one’s own opinion is mirrored and not confronted with other ideas so that one’s own opinion is automatically reinforced. Echo Chambers state that public communication is shifting into ‘chambers’ that are isolated from one another – a process known as fragmentation (Dubois & Blank, 2018). Such fragmentation does not occur randomly but along attitudes and opinions.
At the micro-level, the echo chamber hypothesis assumes that people with similar views increasingly exchange views in protected spaces. Such fragmentation should not be judged as negative because a diversity of opinion is considered a vital feature of a functioning democracy, and the visible differentiation of political views is sometimes capable of strengthening the political participation of individuals (Dubois & Blank, 2018). However, the echo chamber hypothesis assumes an excessive fragmentation that is largely invisible to others, in which one-sided perspectives are mutually reinforced, different opinions receive less and less attention and even fuel distrust.
At the micro-level, fragmentation is accompanied by an increased polarization of the public at the macro level. Such polarization is not very desirable for society since a public sphere is regarded as a central component of modern democracies. Echo chambers, it is feared, endanger a common public sphere, social discourse, the possibility of consensus-building, social integration, and ultimately democracy. The media and, in particular, modern media use play a central role in this. On the one hand, a society can become polarized because people prefer information and views that correspond to their individual perspectives. Polarization can thus be seen as a consequence of one-sided media use, which results from the need to select from the variety of information available on the Internet. On the other hand, a polarized society can contribute to people increasingly holding certain views themselves and therefore preferring certain media or people over others. Polarization can thus also be understood as a cause of one-sided media use (Dubois & Blank, 2018).
Taken together, this results in a spiral process in which one-sided media use contributes to the polarization of a society, which in turn fosters unjust media use. In addition, especially in algorithmically curated media environments – such as news aggregators, social network sites, or search engines – it is not only people who make a selection from the available variety of information and opinions, but algorithms already make a pre-selection (Dubois & Blank, 2018). In addition to social aspects, therefore, technological premises also influence the aforementioned tendencies toward fragmentation and, thus, sometimes also polarization. Thus, the issue of polarization seems to be confirmed, according to which a certain political orientation goes hand in hand with a certain and sometimes extremely selective media use. Moreover, this isolated media use also seems to be accompanied by a higher affinity for ‘fake news’ and to be susceptible to distorted representations of supposed majority opinions (Törnberg, 2018).
Dubois, E. and Blank, G., 2018. The echo chamber is overstated: the moderating effect of political interest and diverse media. Information, communication & society, 21(5), pp.729-745.
Törnberg, P., 2018. Echo chambers and viral misinformation: Modeling fake news as complex contagion. PLoS one, 13(9), p.e0203958.