Can you hear an echo or is it just me?
When Brexit was on the horizon and the voting was due to take place, my Facebook/Twitter was rife with those saying “Remain!”. We know how that went. When the recent presidential candidacy was underway, the same Facebook/Twitter just ripped the idea of President Trump to shreds. We know how that went, too. Funnily enough, I was never surprised by these outcomes, having always feared the worst, and I never believed the chanting of my social media, despite how often I was in complete agreement with most of the points they make. I knew we weren’t in the majority. You can even read my response to Brexit here: Leaving the EU: My Thoughts.
The thing is, the way we construct our Social Media groups, the friends we interact with most, the people we choose to follow on twitter, the blogs we enjoy reading on here… they’re all Echo Chambers. As human beings we seek out those of a similar opinion, we don’t like the cognitive dissonance brought about by contrary facts and opinions. We’re far more likely to support claims that agree with our already held beliefs, and we’re far more likely to dismiss those that don’t. We see it from anything, from something as big and world changing as Brexit and Trump, to something as small as our favourite books and TV Shows. Many people are unwilling to even acknowledge criticism, let alone accept it, or worse – in their minds – be turned by it.
When I’m on my Facebook, scrolling down aimlessly as I do, wasting those precious, constantly mounting minutes of my life which, en mass, could be used for something more productive, I notice one thing. I notice how eager people are to share these acts of altruism, how eager they are to call out the government, how eager they are to support good causes. Of course, I see a lot of waffle too, a lot of ‘fake news’, celebrity gossip, or sharing of these ‘Tasty’ recipes everyone drools over but nobody ever actually tries. This is excusable though, we all get caught up in waffle, but I see so much good too. I have friends who are continually trying to better the world, who campaign or share articles of positive human development. What I don’t see, at all, is anything racist, homophobic, or even as simple as Tory (not holding those three in the same category – by the way). Whether these friends of mine just keep quiet, or whether they’re voices are drowned out by Facebook algorithms, or whether they’re not existent; it’s weird to hear a voice in such cohesion, only to realise it’s not a correct reflection of the world at large.
I do have a Trump supporter though. On Facebook, a long time ago, I was added by an American guy simply. We’ve never spoken, and it was a request I simply added because this was back when you added most people… Before so many fake accounts appeared, or spam messages were prevalent. Through this one connection I have a window into someone else entirely. He posts, with great frequency, his views on all things American; sports, guns, terrorism, Trump. Nearly every post he makes is a stark contrast to my own worldview, he believes Trump will save America, he believes Guns are necessary and nobody should be without one, he believes there are only two genders in the world. As one voice in my crowded Social Media, he looks alone, almost laughable; I accompany each sighting of him with a smug, self-important eyeroll. Then I read his comments on his posts, overcome with a strange curiosity, and I realise that he’s not alone. I realise that his friends and family all agree and support him. I find the voices in support of his posts outweigh those in opposition, if there is any. He has an Echo Chamber of his own.
This thought process was brought about by the Local Elections hosted here in the UK last week. Local Elections aren’t completely indicative of the National climate, in fact there was so little buzz about these I was worried nobody was turning up to it at all. However, it still surprises me how the things that get repeated over and over, throughout all my social media accounts, still fail to come true. It surprises me to realise my opinion isn’t the majority, despite how many people I meet that I agree with. It surprises me that the Conservatives won in areas I thought they’d be least likely to succeed. Is my opinion right? Not necessarily. It might be! I’d like it to be! But it certainly stands a chance that I’m wrong, or ill informed, or simply parroting what is expected of me within my peers. The thing is, the Echo Chamber convince us we’re correct, that there’s support for our ideas and beliefs. It’s great, in a way, for reinforcement and support, but it’s not good for challenge, for growth, and for unbiased information. It’s also not a good predictor of the world at large.
That reminds me of a TED talk I watched the other day, by Simon Anholt who founded his website: Good Country – Global Vote. It’s a Website where anyone in the world can ‘Vote’ in elections in other countries, after being presented a, self-proclaimed, objective write up of the candidates. The votes are, obviously, not counted in the elections, but they are a real analyse of peoples opinions (albeit, with a specific sample of ‘people willing to click a website about voting’ – something to be wary of). I checked out both Brexit and Trump, and I personally agree with the results of this ‘Global Vote’ for both these elections, but neither of them are good predictions for the true outcome. In the video Anholt acknowledges that their website always gets it wrong… Which begs the question, is the internet, and those more likely to utilise it to ‘vote’ or even learn about world affairs, an Echo Chamber of its own?