Image via LoboStudioHamburg at Pixabay
If you want to blame anything for the rise of radicalism on social media, blame the ideological echo chamber. In a world where you only see people confirming to your world view, it becomes near impossible not to develop a radical set of political beliefs.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, gab.ai and Minds.com are only making this easier. Earlier this year, social media mastermind Mark Zuckerberg wrote a manifesto claiming social media has made us more interconnected than ever:
Social media already provides more diverse viewpoints than traditional media ever has. Even if most of our friends are like us, we all know people with different interests, beliefs and backgrounds who expose us to different perspectives. Compared with getting our news from the same two or three TV networks or reading the same newspapers with their consistent editorial views, our networks on Facebook show us more diverse content.
There is a problem with this: it isn’t true. Sites like Facebook are specifically designed with algorithms to keep you hooked, and that isn’t to have different perspectives, because seeing someone with an opinion you disagree with will keep you less hooked to the Facebook slot machine. You may be getting your information from more websites and pages than ever, but it’s more likely they will all cater to your pre-confirmed beliefs. It’s like someone who only watches different programs on, say Fox News or CNN, and claims they have opinions from a multitude of places.
Most of the popular sites have their own ethicists—like Tristan Harris—whose primary job is to make the algorithms work in such a way that you’re on their sites for longer, thus generating them more money. What’s more likely to keep you hooked? Stuff that interests you. People criticizing those you disagree with. A feed that isn’t in chronological, but randomized, order.
When you’re only seeing opinions from your echo chamber, you start to believe only your side can be correct. For example, if you only see people supporting Hillary Clinton, you’re going to be flabbergasted when Donald Trump wins the United States Election. In your echo chamber, you don’t get to see those who support Trump and, on the rare chance you do, they’re portrayed in a way that makes them seem inhuman and the minority.
Echo chambers provide an important function in society. Smaller groups of humans worked more effectively in a hunter-gatherer society. We are still deeply entrenched in this way of thinking.
Have you ever ventured outside your ideological echo chamber and tried to challenge preconceived beliefs? It’s overwhelming. It’s much easier to select only the nuggets of information you agree with and chuck out the rest.
This is creating a dangerous precedent all around the world. The more you confine yourself to strict notions of what is right and wrong, the worse it ends up. At the moment, both sides of the political sphere in the United States see each other as vicious villains. Republicans see their rivals as Liberal crybaby cucks who want to send an Islamic horde upon America to destroy its pure, Christian beauty. Democrats see Conservatives as not-so-secret Nazis, literally butchering and lynching nonwhite people and women with impunity now they have a fascist monster in charge. Neither of these are true, but when you’re living in an echo chamber, and hear the same opinions repeated over and over, then they must be true.
Social media like gab.ai and Minds.com, created under the guise of returning free speech to social media, are at risk of becoming echo chambers as much as the more dominant sites like Tumblr and Twitter. Social media sites are still businesses, and they’ll do what they can to engage you with the content you’ll click on. News media is no different. Sites like Daily Caller, Heat Street and Breitbart will have very different content from Everyday Feminism, The Guardian and Salon. That’s because they cater to different ideological echo chambers. It’s going to keep being perpetuated as long as people refuse to listen to differing points of view.
Laci Green had the right idea when she attempted to engage with the sorts of people she previously thought were beyond reasoning. While she’s still the same intersectional feminist as ever, she opened her mind and escaped the confines of her echo chamber, and that deserves the utmost respect.
The best way to stop this prevailing insularity is by saying NO—read articles by those you dislike, broaden your mind and horizons. Not everyone you disagree with is a cuck or a Nazi. They’re stuck in the ideological echo chamber, just like you.