Social Question

SmashTheState's avatar

What, if anything, can be done about the "echo chamber" effect?

Asked by SmashTheState (9635 points ) November 28th, 2011

It is a fact of modern life that we are being exposed to fewer and fewer disagreeable sentiments. The irony of having a vast plethora of choices is that no one need be compelled to endure the presence of those one finds offensive. The result of this is the increasing tribalization of our culture, where people have either fallen out of the habit of accomodating opposition, or are in the odd position of being young enough that being surrounded by only those with whom one agrees is all they’ve ever known.

What got me thinking about this was Fluther. As some of you are aware, I was once a “regular” here. The degree of heavy-handed censorship eventually drove me away. It was not necessarily the censorship itself which bothered me — although I hate all censorshop of any kind — but rather the kind of censorship I experienced, where simply expressing a controversial enough opinion was sufficient to be forcibly silenced. There was no objective standard; outraging a sufficient number of people was enough to trigger censorship. Every six months to a year I make a foray back to Fluther to see whether this has changed and, of course, it has not. If anything, it’s become even more so.

The reactions of the people on Fluther, the administrators of Fluther, and myself are all instructive. The people who use Fluther are of the opinion that this is their community, and their community should not be forced to see an opinion which they find objectionable. If probed, they will say that those who do not like this particular flavour of censorship should go elsewhere. The administrators are ultimately in the business of making money, and no one makes money by challenging their customers. They will hammer flat the proud nail simply out of pragmatic desire to make the most number of people happy. And on my part, I simply wandered away to less oppressive climes, since there was and is no particular need for me to knuckle under to what I regard as an intolerant and intolerable community.

My question is, is this state of affairs desirable? And if not, is it somehow fixable?

This question has far more extensive implications than just Internet standards, as it gets at the heart of what “community” means. Once upon a time, when living in a small community was necessary for survival, communities faced a choice: they could either become rigidly authoritarian in which members of the group were forced under threat of harm to conform to a social standard, or they could become liberal and open agoras of ideas in which people were forced daily to confront hostile ideas. Usually, of course, there was a balance between the two, where the individual had to find some way to accomodate the desires of the community, while the community had to grudgingly tolerate a certain level of objectionable opinion so as to retain enough individuals to function.

Now that there are so many communities across such a broad spectrum of beliefs and opinions, it has had the effect of removing both the desire and the need on both sides to accomodate. Accomodation is not only not present, but being increasingly seen as a negative quality, often referred to as “appeasement.” It’s seen as “giving in,” of not having sufficient courage or nerve to eject that which is objectionable.

Do you believe that this is a positive step forward, where human beings will no longer be forced to endure balkanization in the name of utility? Or do you believe that this is a dangerous trend which increases the likelihood of conflict and war?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

18 Answers

6rant6's avatar

Both growth and blood occur only at the cutting edge. Those enterprises – business, art, social progress – that play it safe will eventually succumb to the more adventurous endeavors. Of course, most of those more adventurous endeavors will end up on the trash heap, too.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Ha ha ha, gotta love the irony. Nicely done, @SmashTheState .

john65pennington's avatar

I have never associated Fluther with problmatic questions, answers, or opinions that were indifferent. I will admit that I went too far to the right in discussing illegal immigrants. I was censored for this and looking back, the Moderators were correct in their decision. I paid my dues, then.

I have never had the feeling that Fluther was self-contained and limited to only one avenue of thought or opinions. I feel that going too far or destructive opinions should be controlled, for the sake of all the people on Fluther. I have never condoned profanity, but Fluther does allow selective profanity words to a question or answer, IF it magnifies the point or opinion attempting to be made.

I have no problems with this site or Fluther. Free speech shall never be crushed.

Paradox25's avatar

I have taken long breaks from here myself, and from other sites as well that I post on. Many websites do attract a certain type of userbase and I’ve ran into this on several other sites when I wasn’t fluthering. Perhaps you should read my profile since I see that you seem to agree with my anti-echo chamber rant.

I do offer strong counter opinions on many different topics such as theism, scientific theories, politics, paranormal phenomena, alternative treatment protocols, etc. In fact I’ve debated these issues very strongly against staunch opposition during my nearly 2 years on here (on & off). I personally havn’t been censored for expressing opposition, sometimes strongly about a certain topic.

bkcunningham's avatar

“Echo chamber” effect on Fluther? I’ve never never never experienced experienced that that that.

FutureMemory's avatar

You should come back, @SmashTheState. Just take your ego down a peg or two first.

linguaphile's avatar

I’ve found that the most homogenous communities tend to be the least tolerant of diversity because they don’t have to be tolerant. I could be wrong. The most racist communities I’ve experienced are not the ones who live with many races, but the ones who live with the least amount of racial diversity.

Because of that pattern I’ve seen after living in 7 states, I do hold the belief that homogeneity, especially forced homogeneity, is dangerous.

geeky_mama's avatar

And now for a dissenting opinion… I have to disagree that IN PERSON interactions that I observe are quite the opposite to this statement: “It is a fact of modern life that we are being exposed to fewer and fewer disagreeable sentiments.” I actually feel that I’m seeing more and more disagreement. More “us versus them”..more “if you don’t like my opinion you can go eff yourself” type thinking and behavior.

I see more polarization, more self-centered, ego-driven rudeness than in the (recent few decades) past. I am making an observation of the American public—and I travel extensively in the US so I’m not commenting on one big city or a particular segment of the population-I’m seeing this everywhere in the US.

Honestly, I was just reflecting to a friend the other day that people are growing more and more rude. They don’t want to enter into discourse (polite or heated) they just want to snatch, grab and run—meet their own shallow needs and screw everyone else.
To wit: Two 50-something women drove the wrong way in a parking lot to snatch a parking spot I waited for and was pulling into in a rainy lot in Ohio. Two (30s? 40s?) grown men shoved a young boy out of the way to grab a video game in a Wal-Mart I was in a few days ago in Indiana. A man blocking the whole aisle in a grocery store in rural Minnesota told me to F*&k Off last night when I politely said: “Excuse me please” hoping to push my shopping cart down the aisle..this is all in just the past week.

It’s something I’m seeing more and more. It could be that the more people interact anonymously and digitally (online) the more their own in-person interactions grow…rude.

In contrast, I lived in Japan where Homogeneity is PRIZED. The axiom: “The nail that sticks up is hammered down” is a truism people live by..and the needs of the group always trump the desires of an individual. In an overpopulated nation this sort of mentality is a must-because it makes people intentionally group-think oriented. Japanese get on a public subway and sit quietly, turn off their ringer volume and politely avert their gaze from others or feign sleep. And why do they do this? Because they’ve learned that it takes cooperation by everyone to get along. It takes a little personal sacrifice to make things go smoothly for everyone else.
Maybe they appear homogeneous on the surface—but I assure you they aren’t robots and they have opinions they’ll share over a beer.. but..in public spaces? They do what’s necessary to get along.

A little homogeneity—at least enough to make people treat others with politeness and to help create a national identity or better moral character…that’s not all bad in my opinion. It sure beats the chaos and self-centered behavior I’m seeing more and more frequently in our nation that prizes the individual.

I’d love to discuss politics, religion and race with you—but I won’t do it by slapping a bumper sticker on my car that alienates half the people that read it.
I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts and opinions and reconsider my own beliefs…but it takes mutual respect to get to that safe place where we can both truly discuss in an open minded manner.
I don’t like censorship either…but I don’t believe conforming to so social norms, using manners or considering other people’s feelings equals censorship.

wundayatta's avatar

Wow! What the eff is going on here? Lots of wild accusations being thrown around and absolutely zero backup for it. What are some examples of this censorship you are talking about? I have to say that the fact that there are no examples makes me suspect that what you call censorship is actually ad hominem attacks or something like that.

In any case, I have never felt censored here, so it’s hard to relate. I have some odd views, too, and I sometimes get pretty vigorous in advocating for my point of view. I think a few of my comments on one particular question were modded, but mostly that has not been the case. I was modded more for tone than for content, I felt. I believe that is mostly how moderation works around here. It is almost never for what you say, but for how you say it. They want us to be nice.

I think the occasions where people are modded for what they say, such as when there is a discussion about suicide, are pretty well thought through. This place should not have the responsibility of suicide prevention. I think hate speech is also not allowed.

If you are nice and on topic, I don’t think you will be modded. But if you have been modded for other reasons, please do explain, and perhaps you will change my mind. But in the absence of evidence, please do pardon my skepticism.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

“The administrators are ultimately in the business of making money, and no one makes money by challenging their customers” – lol…where is Augustlan to facepalm when you need to her?

wundayatta's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I know. This place makes so much money that all the founders left for more lucrative jobs.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@wundayatta Yes, those self-sacrificers…

augustlan's avatar

I’m not going to speak to the larger issues you’ve mentioned (since others are far better versed in that area than I), but here on Fluther, I assure you, we do not moderate for unpopular ideas. There are ways to discuss nearly every idea here, but, as @wundayatta pointed out, it’s all in how you discuss it.

Occasionally, a question will be removed as flame-bait (I think this may have happened with one of yours at some point?), because all such a question will do is spawn a huge hate fest… we want good debate here, not screaming matches. Even then, there is usually a way to rephrase the question so that it doesn’t have that effect. Sometimes it’s too late to save a particular question, but in that case, we generally suggest re-asking it (with less inflammatory wording) in a week or two.

Very, very rarely, there is a question that just can not be asked here without an eruption of volcanic intensity. If a thread gets too far out of hand, we do close it, rather than let the angry interactions continue indefinitely.

SmashTheState's avatar

I’d like to note that of the 13 responses, 11 have been about Fluther and how it’s justified (or how I’m not). Only a single person actually addressed the question itself. This is very much an example of the very “echo chamber” effect to which I was referring. The implication being, I guess, that a large majority of people here tacitly support the idea that enforcement of community standards is a good and desirable thing.

@geeky_mama I would argue that your anecdotes show precisely the opposite of what you believe they do. People are angry and obnoxious specifically because they are infuriated at being opposed. People have fallen out of the habit of accomodating opposition.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@SmashTheState : You seem to have the idea that if someone simply disagrees with you that that proves your premise. There’s an apples and sofas mentality at work there.

HungryGuy's avatar

There’s not much anyone can do about it. You and me and a few others are willing to express controversial, even offensive, opinions. But, yes, most people, it seems, want to be insulated from opinions that contradict to their worldview, and brand such people as “ignorant” and/or “hateful” who express such opinions. Here on Fluther, the most they can do is censor moderate those opinions, or even threaten to ban someone. Frustrating, but not the end of the world. But is their site and they can make their own rules, that’s part of freedom, too.

The bigger problem is out in the “real world” where you can lose your job, or even get arrested, for making “politically incorrect” statements and opinions on company property and/or on company time. An abysmally few people understand and appreciate the importance, indeed the necessity, of free speech for a free and prosperous society to flourish.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SmashTheState Well you are asking about fluther as well so people on fluther will talk about that first, since that’s how you finish off your detail section…we can talk about the chamber effect generally…i do think it exists.

6rant6's avatar

I’ll put my two cents in.

People, the OP and myself included, occasionally feel that unless you side with the insiders you may get shut up. True or not, we feel that way. That the insiders think that patting each other on the back and saying that __they__ don’t feel there is anything going on is a reflection of the problem OP sees. It’s not a response to it.

Answer this question

Login

or

Join

to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
or
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther