And doing so with a passion.
If you work in digital, chances are you know what an echo chamber is already. It is defined 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.
We see it reinforced by targeted advertising, because it is becoming more common for political beliefs to align with the types of products and services people use and buy. This became very clear with the Black Lives Matter movement becoming a statement on social media for many businesses. And this sparked endless comments either saying “Thank you” or “I’m never buying from you again”.
It’s this polarising attitude on social media that is growing to a point where it is becoming damaging. Comment sections are full of angry statements that are firmly planted on one side of the argument or the other. Calm discussions and debates surrounding discourse are rare.
This is furthered by a post I see increasingly appearing, which reads: “If you believe in X, then unfriend me immediately.”
I am not suggesting that people have to put up with individuals on their social channels that they disagree with – particularly if sharing a social space with these people is actively harming them. But when I see those same people making the above statements making passionate, well-thought out and powerful arguments for their cause on the same platforms, I can’t help but wonder who they are talking to.
If social media is where you want to do the majority of your advocacy for a cause, you must consider who it is reaching. Otherwise you are preaching to the converted, and become convinced that everyone thinks exactly like you. When this happens, it can come as a shock when political results don’t go the way you thought it would. This was common among young people after the December 2019 UK General election, and for both parties following the 2020 US Presidential election. As we have seen with Trump’s continuous and unfounded voter fraud allegations, that shock can be manipulated into more serious actions.
As one 2015 study on Twitter discussions points out, this issue is more related to politics than other ideological issues. And another 2019 study concludes that filter bubbles and echo chambers in peer groups online are prevalent across the political spectrum, and not limited to one political affiliation.
If you really want your social channels to be exclusive to people who share your values, that is fine. But I would urge these people to actively seek out forums for discussions where their arguments can be heard by individuals who aren’t already on your side. These groups can even be found on social media itself but can be kept largely separate from the individual’s circle of friends.
One way of breaking free from the echo chamber is to seek articles from journals or individuals outside of your norm. This gives you insight into other perspectives, and can help you to find ways of building even more informed and structured arguments for debate.
After all, we can all benefit from being more informed.