Facebook and Google are creating increasingly powerful echo chambers. However, it’s not just right-wing populists who are cavorting in them.
The good old pantry preserves harmless preserves instead of right-wing mash Photo: imago/Christian Ohde
A word has been circulating through the media for some time now: the echo chamber. Invented by three social scientists in the U.S., Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonio Scala and Cass Sunstein, it appears in journalistic articles and tries to explain what the Internet and social networks are doing to our society. There is usually a warning between the lines: that people are drifting into the right-wing camp and becoming increasingly radicalized in their opinions.
The blame for the burgeoning anger culture lies primarily with Google and Facebook, whose algorithms ensure that every search process or newsfeed post brings those personalized results to the consumer’s attention that already fit the world view. Fake news and conspiracy theories are making the rounds within opinion-homogeneous circles, mobilized by the chain reactions of likes and shares.
Basically, the winged "We only see what we want to see" is transformed into "We only see what Google and Facebook know we want to see. But the corporations have so far always rejected responsibility. After all, Facebook is not a news agency and does not control news feeds, according to a statement made by Andy Mitchell, a company employee responsible for news and media cooperation, at a conference in spring 2015.
In this way, something that obviously causes harm continues to develop unchecked. Whether the repeated warning of the power of the echoing communication spaces mentioned at the beginning is effective and drives consumers to fight back remains questionable. Keep calm and carry on is more the motto. Or watch another round of Netflix.
Talking helps against echo
There is a lack of actionism on the part of those who do not count themselves among these echo chamber people, but who, on closer inspection, wallow in the same information and opinion cavities. Sure, that provides satisfaction, so one is confirmed again and again in its political attitude. Doubts are allayed, but fears are also stoked – and the bulkheads are closed. The eternally echoing rage that poisons social peace cannot be broken through if the possibilities for exchange are closed off.
There are people who are still standing in front of the door to the right-wing ideological chamber of horrors, groping blindly for the entrance, and also those who have one foot inside but are not sure whether they really like the spectacle inside so much. Even those who are already inside might still be salvageable. They are part of society and can be persuaded, provided people leave their own cozy echo chamber to have a conversation with them at eye level and free of anger, for example about our political system and why it’s worth maintaining it, or, for a closer look, about how to deal with social networks on the Internet.