Let’s say you’re on a zoom call. You join, mute yourself, and wait for the rest to enter. Two people join.
“Hello?” one says, to break the silence. “Hello! Hello! Hello! Ello! Ello! ELLO! LLO! LO!”
It’s happened. The dreaded Zoom echo chamber. Everyone scrambles to find a way to stop it—everyone mutes, gathers their thoughts, and tries to figure out how to resolve the problem.
Familiar situation, right? So why is it that we have no problem with stopping an echo when it’s ringing in our ears, in front of someone else—but we don’t mind existing in an echo chamber on social media?
For years, social media has been on a different path than that it was intended for. Instead of connecting voices, ideas, and communications, users are walling themselves off in their own communities, only hearing the ideas, communications and voices of those who think like them. Many of those people may not even realize they’re doing it—or ever feel the need to venture outside of it.
The rise of the social media echo chamber has come at a crucial juncture for our culture, just as strong divisions polarize people, and the echo chambers they dwell within online only fuel their passion for their side of the story. The problem here is that within that bubble, no new information, no new perspective, is being shared. It has led to social media evolving beyond being a single large community with multiple small moving parts, to many small microcosms that function independently.
This then changes both the meaning and the intent of social media. It takes us from a “discover and explore” focus to one that is very much rooted in “similarity and repetition.” People are still discovering and exploring—but only within communities they already have affinities for, and only with those that share their opinions.
Online validation is also changing—from a focus on seeing others “like and share” your content and ideas, to seeking out communities and others who share the same opinion as you. This form of validation is increasingly growing these echo chambers, as people look for like-minded individuals to build groups and affinities with, without the noise of an opposing opinion.
So, without an opposing opinion—or the exposure to new ideas and information—social media, and how we use it, is uniquely different. Without change, it will continue to serve as a platform not for sharing, but for repeating.
This also creates a unique situation for content—one in which it doesn’t age by date, but rather by if the community it is being shared to has seen it or not. Even more, content sourcing becomes only as valid as the community believes it to be.
Beyond the problems this creates for users, it also is taking a toll on brands, as they get upbraided for sharing an opinion that one of these communities disagrees with. It has led us to a point where social media is an agree-or-disagree platform, one that will become increasingly volatile as divides grow deeper among people, and platforms exist on the sidelines watching their tool be misused.
The most glaring realization is that people are taking behaviors and habits learned in these communities and adopting them into their everyday lives offline. This means that the line between online and offline life and how they influence each other is not only blurring, but disappearing—in some cases, without acknowledgement from the user that it has even happened.
It’s perhaps part of the growing up of the internet, and growing pains can be expected. However, until we can have civil discourse and use the medium for healthy exchange of both information and personal values, the divide will only grow wider.