I have read many discussions recently about the echo chamber effect that that can be seen in social media communities and how apparently detrimental this is. It would seem we are all so involved in parroting each other’s views and slapping our echo chamber pals on the back that we are blind to opposing views or new and interesting information.
Yet, does this camaraderie not seem strangely familiar?
Echo chambers always form around media; like minded individuals will echo information and opinions that they come across. I can’t help but notice the parallels between these online communities and the ‘real world’. I, for one, have friends that share my views and support my opinions and view of the world. We automatically gravitate to people that we have common ground with and can share our interest and opinions. Are echo chambers found in social media simply a natural echo of ‘real life’?
Within social media, these echo chambers often appear to be industry-specific. Discussions in these communities would be incomprehensible to outsiders; a classic example of this in action would be SEO discussions. So ingrained into our consciousness, we forget that the man on the street would not have a clue what this acronym refers to, let alone the discussions that take place within it, (infographic anyone?!) Despite the wealth of these little bubbles of communication, this is definitely not restricted to the web. A group of SEOs meeting face to face would no doubt engage in the same sort of conversation, predominantly sharing opinions and topics of interest; why should social media be any different?
However, there are stark differences between online and verbal communication.
One thing that online communities often lack is the presence of the ‘argumentative participant.’ You know the one, always coming out with the contrary view to create a bit of debate (or just to be awkward?!) However frustrating they might be, it is good to have this devil’s advocate in your circle. A bit of healthy debate and objective thinking is never a bad thing and the danger of this communication online may mean this person will simply be swept aside and ignored. In the context of a blog, you can moderate and delete comments that don’t agree with your opinion, lock users from a forum or block and delete followers on twitter and friends on facebook. It is a lot easier to ignore challenges to the views held in these communities on the internet than in face to face communication.
Yet, online echo chambers can be invaluable for individuals looking for information on a certain niche or industry; you can learn a lot from dipping into these communities. I have only recently forayed into the world of SEO, and social media and blogs have been a brilliant help so I can quickly learn some tips of the trade. The best SEO posts I have come across are those that not only give you invaluable advice but also link to others within their online community. This spiralling chain reaction of the echoing of other peoples work and opinions is brilliantly informative for newcomers to any field. Finding an online community of this sort provides information that couldn’t be found in any other way. I would not be able to connect with the people that I have in online media in the ‘real world’ and would have sadly lacked the advice and insight that I have now.
So… do echo chambers in online media echo communication in real life? Yes I believe there are many inherent similarities, but the opportunities in online communication to interact with people and benefit from the echoes filtering through their informed community is much greater than in the ‘outside world’! Just don’t get stuck in these opinions and make sure you challenge your views, in both social media and the wider world!