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