Echo chamber (media)
In news media, the term echo chamber is analogous to an acoustic echo chamber where sounds reverberate in a hollow enclosure. An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system. By visiting an echo chamber, people are able to seek out information which reinforces their existing views. This may increase political and social polarization and extremism. Another emerging term for this echoing and homogenizing effect on the Internet within social communities is cultural tribalism.
The Internet has expanded the variety and amount of accessible political information. On the positive side, this may create a more pluralistic form of public debate; on the negative side, greater access to information may lead to selective exposure to ideologically supportive channels. In an extreme "echo chamber", one purveyor of information will make a claim, which many like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true.
It is important to distinguish the difference between echo chambers and filter bubbles. Both concepts relate to the ways individuals are exposed to content devoid of clashing opinions, and colloquially might be used interchangeably. However, echo chamber refers to the overall phenomenon by which individuals are exposed only to information from like-minded individuals, while filter bubbles are a result of algorithms that choose content based on previous online behavior, like our search history or online shopping activity.
The echo chamber effect occurs online due to a harmonious group of people amalgamating and developing tunnel vision. Participants in online discussions may find their opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. However, individuals who participate in echo chambers often do so because they feel more confident that their opinions will be more readily accepted by others in the echo chamber. This happens because the Internet has provided access to a wide range of readily available information. People are increasingly receiving their news online through untraditional sources, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, that have established personalization algorithms that cater specific information to individuals’ online feeds. This method of curating content has replaced the function of the traditional news editor. The mediated spread of information through online networks causes a risk of an algorithmic filter bubble.
Online social communities become fragmented when like-minded people group together and members hear arguments in one specific direction. In certain online platforms, such as Twitter, echo chambers are more likely to be found when the topic is more political in nature compared to topics that are seen as more neutral. Social networking communities are powerful reinforcers of rumors because people trust evidence supplied by their own social group, more than they do the news media.[unreliable source?] This can create significant barriers to critical discourse within an online medium. Social discussion and sharing suffer when people have a narrow information base and don’t reach outside their network.
Many real-life communities are also segregated by political beliefs and cultural views. The echo chamber effect may prevent individuals from noticing changes in language and culture involving groups other than their own. Online echo chambers can sometimes influence an individual’s willingness to participate in similar discussions in the real world. A 2016 study found that “Twitter users who felt their audience on Twitter agreed with their opinion were more willing to speak out on that issue in the workplace”.
Ideological echo chambers have existed in many forms, for centuries. The echo chamber effect has largely been cited as occurring in politics.
- The McMartin preschool trial coverage was criticized by David Shaw in his 1990 Pulitzer Prize winning articles, "None of these charges was ultimately proved, but the media largely acted in a pack, as it so often does on big events, and reporters' stories, in print and on the air, fed on one another, creating an echo chamber of horrors." He said this case "exposed basic flaws" in news organizations like "Laziness. Superficiality. Cozy relationships" and "a frantic search to be first with the latest shocking allegation". "Reporters and editors often abandoned" journalistic principles of "fairness and skepticism." And "frequently plunged into hysteria, sensationalism and what one editor calls 'a lynch mob syndrome.'"
- Clinton-Lewinsky scandal reporting was chronicled in Time Magazine's 16 February 1998 "Trial by Leaks" cover story "The Press And The Dress: The anatomy of a salacious leak, and how it ricocheted around the walls of the media echo chamber" by Adam Cohen. This case was reviewed in depth by the Project for Excellence in Journalism in "The Clinton/Lewinsky Story: How Accurate? How Fair?"
- Starting in the fall of 2014, the Gamergate attacks and journalists' responses have been alleged to be echo chambers.
- A New Statesman essay argued that echo chambers were linked to the UK Brexit referendum.
- The 2016 presidential election in the United States triggered a stream of discourse about the echo chamber in media. Constituents were more likely to absorb information about topics such as gun control and immigration that aligned with their preexisting beliefs, as they were more likely to view information they already agreed with. Facebook is more likely to suggest posts that are congruent with your standpoints; therefore there was mainly repetition of already stable standpoints instead of a diversity of opinions. Journalists argue that diversity of opinion is necessary for true democracy as it facilitates communication, and echo chambers, like those occurring in Facebook, inhibited this. Some believed echo chambers played a big part in the success of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections.
- The subreddit /r/incels and other online incel communities have also been described as echo chambers.[unreliable source?]
A number of institutions have created websites and resources available online with the goal of enabling individuals to escape the effect of echo chambers. These resources include news websites that aim to minimize bias through utilizing bipartisan methods of information aggregation. An example that has gained popularity is Allsides.com, which claims to use unique crowd-driven reporting technology to present unbiased information. In addition to this, a number of institutions with politically driven missions have produced guides aimed at individuals seeking to escape echo chambers. The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University released a document titled “Facilitating Political Discussion” aimed at enabling facilitators of political conversations to promote neutrality in the dialogues they oversee. Other groups, such as the organization Facing History and Ourselves, are focused on historical and political dialogue, and have released guides intended for furthering civil discussion within classroom environments.
Some companies have also made efforts in combating the effects of an echo chamber on an algorithmic approach. A high profile example of this is the changes Facebook made to its “Trending” page, which is an on-site news source for its users. Facebook modified their “Trending” page by transitioning from displaying a single news source to multiple news sources for a topic or event. The intended purpose of this was to expand the breadth of news sources for any given headline, and therefore expose readers to a variety of viewpoints. Another example is a beta feature on BuzzFeed News, called “Outside Your Bubble". This experiment adds a module at the bottom of Buzzfeed News articles to show reactions from various platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. This concept aims to bring transparency and prevent biased conversations diversifying the viewpoints their readers are exposed to.
- Big lie
- Circular source
- Communal reinforcement
- Confirmation bias
- Epistemic closure
- False consensus effect
- Filter bubble
- Google's Ideological Echo Chamber
- Idola specus
- Information silo
- Manufacturing Consent
- Media circus
- Opinion corridor
- Party line
- Peer review
- Positive feedback
- Red herring
- Reinforcement theory
- Selective exposure theory
- Spiral of silence
- Telephone game
- Tribe (Internet)
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- Cohen, Adam (16 February 1998). "The Press And The Dress". Time.
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- "Escaping the echo chamber: GamerGaters and journalists have more in common than they think". pocketgamer.biz.
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- Chater, James. "What the EU referendum result teaches us about the dangers of the echo chamber". NewStatesman.
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- Hooton, Christopher (10 November 2016). "Your social media echo chamber is the reason Donald Trump ended up being voted President". The Independent. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
- "AllSides | Balanced news via media bias ratings for an unbiased news perspective". AllSides. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
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- Ourselves, Facing History and. "Fostering Civil Discourse: A Classroom Guide for Having Difficult Conversations". info.facinghistory.org. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
- "Outside Your Bubble". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
- Smith, Ben (February 17, 2017). "Helping You See Outside Your Bubble". BuzzFeed.
- Philip McRae, "Forecasting the Future Over Three Horizons of Change ", ATA Magazine, May 21, 2010.
- John Scruggs, "The "Echo Chamber" Approach to Advocacy", Philip Morris, Bates No. 2078707451/7452, December 18, 1998.
- "Buying a Movement: Right-Wing Foundations and American Politics," (Washington, DC: People for the American Way, 1996). Or download a PDF version of the full report.
- Dan Morgan, "Think Tanks: Corporations' Quiet Weapon," Washington Post, January 29, 2000, p. A1.
- Jeff Gerth and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Drug Industry Has Ties to Groups With Many Different Voices", New York Times, October 5, 2000.
- Robert Kuttner, "Philanthropy and Movements," The American Prospect, July 2, 2002.
- Robert W. Hahn, "The False Promise of 'Full Disclosure'," Policy Review, Hoover Institution, October 2002.
- David Brock, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2002).
- Jeff Chester, "A Present for Murdoch", The Nation, December 2003: "From 1999 to 2002, his company spent almost $10 million on its lobbying operations. It has already poured $200,000 in contributions into the 2004 election, having donated nearly $1.8 million during the 2000 and 2002 campaigns."
- Jim Lobe for Asia Times: "the structure's most remarkable characteristics are how few people it includes and how adept they have been in creating new institutions and front groups that act as a vast echo chamber for one another and for the media"
- Valdis Krebs, "Divided We Stand," Political Echo Chambers
- Jonathan S. Landay and Tish Wells, "Iraqi exile group fed false information to news media", Knight Ridder, March 15, 2004.
- R.G. Keen: The Technology of Oil Can Delays
- Echo chamber at SourceWatch