An echo chamber by definition is an enclosed space or area used to reverberate sound in order to produce echoes. Figuratively, when put in the context of ideology, an echo chamber is a metaphor used for any communication space in which ideas, beliefs and information are uncritically disseminated throughout a group of people and amplified through continuous repetition, analogous to the real echo chamber, bulwarking the belief systems of every person it is passed on to and so on.
These echo chambers often find any and all opposition shot down, with any dissenting opinions ignored, hidden or even outright censored in order to prevent doubt from leaking into the chamber and maintaining the sanctity of the “safe space” in which the residents of the bubble reside.
Another effect of ideological echo chambers is the promotion of “groupthink” in people, the practice in which the group places priority on conformity and consensus above all, often failing to be critical about situations and leading to faulty decision making and a sorely negative outcome. Groupthink exists in many parts of life. It one of the most dangerous things we face as a society if one considers the fact that many of the mistakes that were made during the course of history have been derived from the exhibition of collective decision-making found in groupthink. Former U.S. president Bush senior’s cabinet was a notable example of this, with journalist Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War, based on his interview with Bush’s cabinet members, highlighting several cases of groupthink within the Bush administration.
Naturally, echo chambers are able to exist and thrive on the political landscape. We are living in turbulent political times, and in this day and age, politics has become a hot topic that almost everyone seems to have their mind on. However, honest discussion and political discourse are not in a good state right now. Rather than rationally and earnestly discussing the significant issues of our time, we instead see people taking sides and becoming more and more aggressive and offensive towards each other. Instead of standing together and working to better ourselves for the future, we’re divided in thought and action. We hole up inside our own little bubbles, and we lose touch with people of different ideological alignments and social and economic classes.
Because echo chambers fly in the face of free speech as ideological fallacies, it shouldn’t be surprising that they are also centers for the cultivation of hate speech. The topic of hate speech, as well as any law connecting to it, is a point of heated discussion in several countries today, since it is not clearly defined what exactly hate speech really is, or if implementing any laws will be of any use to combating the discrimination supposedly brought upon by hate speech. At first, they campaigned it as a motion that was supposed to be against bullying, racism and offensive behavior in social network. Now, it seems its purpose is to ward against all criticism against politics, religion and any other ideology or belief, effectively becoming a perpetrator in the echo chamber effect. Whether or not hate speech is equal to free speech and be constitutionally protected is a point of contention. However, it is ethically wrong to censor ideas simply because they go in opposition to one’s agenda, and blindly labeling all opposing ideas as hate speech and racism is simply lazy; refusing to even think of engaging them is lazier still.
The advent of the internet has done little to curb the spread of ideological echo chambers. In fact, it has quite possibly exacerbated the situation. This is quite ironic considering that the internet is the biggest and the most accessible network of information in the world. One would assume that that would promote a sense of understanding, tolerance and acceptance of new and conflicting ideas in people. Unfortunately, one would be wrong. Contrary to this expectation, the generation that has grown up on one of the greatest informational and technological wonders of mankind’s creation has become a narrow-minded, narrative-driven one that jealously guard their viewpoints against all opposition and take offense when their beliefs are subjected to any dissenting opinion.
Various social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are making this situation even worse. Their concept is built around the ability for users to form their own personal echo chambers by proposing to them friends and sites that will most likely conform to their world view based on their previous recorded activities and interests, furthering the decay of the spreading of alternative ideas among people. The generation today has turned out to be this way because their entire lives have been defined by a technology that allows them to exist in their own personal echo chamber.
This allows them to simply click away from ideas and concepts that they don’t like or ban people from participating in discussions or activities in communities based on some ideological litmus test and encourages narcissism and the false notion that everyone is a special snowflake to be admired. Echo chambers and all sorts of other ideological fallacies are able to thrive because censoring the opposition has become standard practice for many, unfortunate as it may be.