Echo? Part 2

Continued from Echo? Part 1

The Social Media of it All

So how do social media and echo chambers affect each other? For starters, check out this article by NPR on how the internet is a catalyst to echo chambers and what to do about yours. But the issue I want to really hone in on is something I’ll call “militant close-mindedness”. Once I noticed my echo chamber, I started following a few more sources that frequently post points of view that are different from mine. When I did this, I discovered that my generally liberal friends were exceptionally intolerant to other points of view. This is the basics of what I mean by “militant closed-mindedness”.

open v closed mind

But where does the “militant” part come in? I noticed the strong intolerance for other points of view because of how my friends reacted to differences on social media. Comments, sharing, even un-friending were common things for my friends to do when discussing politics. But here’s the kicker: many of my friends told me in person that they actively searched for people that disagreed with them on social media in order to change their opinions. Seeing others’ point of view was unimportant, changing opinions was important. My friends were intentionally seeking out people with differing opinions in order to argue with them. For me, that’s as bad as taunting someone into a fist fight.

Intentionally seeking out differences just to have an online argument seems silly sometimes, but it can get boring in an echo chamber. If you’ve ever been to a zoo, you’ve seen the enrichment toys that animals are given to stimulate their brain and make life a little more full. Zoo animals live in a space metaphorically akin to an echo chamber, with no real outside stimuli except for those toys. But, like Zabu’s ball in the video below, those toys often become a great source of entertainment.

Imagine that the ball in the video is opposing opinions, and the tiger is you and your echo chamber. Sure, you can bat it around and chase the other opinions all over the internet. But, you can’t really enjoy playing with the ball unless you understand how it rolls or bounces. Having a productive debate is the same way. It’s boring and nonsensical without at least a basic understanding of the other points of view. Teacher Development Trust has an article listing five different reasons why people may refuse to acknowledge other opinions on social media. Read it here, and learn a little bit about journalism too!

It would be unfair of me to call it out without acknowledging that I’ve been guilty of building my own echo chambers with punching bags made of causes I oppose. Not everyone does this search and destroy mission for opposing opinions, either. Whether or not you do, it’s important to remember that understanding is key to productive conversation.