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Journalists and social media “echo chambers”

by on November 18, 2016

Since the election results, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about the dangers of “echo chambers.” The idea is that Facebook and other social media allow us to create bubbles, where we create groups of like-minded people and share the same types of articles, opinions, and information without ever considering the other side of the argument.

My first question is: how could we have avoided this?

I think that would be very challenging. In the article, “Social media loves echo chambers but the human brain helps create them,” the author points out that the human brain is wired to seek out close-knit, like-minded groups, and social media enables us to more easily do this. Fake news, memes, and inaccuracies also thrive in these echo chambers, especially since the brain is better at remembering small bits of information, like memes and headlines.

Social media has the potential to connect us with so many different voices, “but instead algorithms and our own choices have enabled us to seek out new way to ratify the ideas we already have,” according to Scott Simon for NPR. Rather than connecting with people of diverse opinions we end up connecting with people who think like us. I’m really curious to know what journalists think about this phenomenon and how they can address it. Good journalism should challenge reader’s ideas and show them the truth, but that can’t happen if people are only reading and sharing articles that specifically appeal to them or support their opinions.

I think it’s especially interesting because as journalism students we learn a lot about the importance of our social media presence and being active on social media. What role do journalists have on social media to address these divides?

One thing that caught my attention is the Wall Street Journal’s Blue Feed, Red Feed, which does a side-by-side comparison of the top posts in liberal and conservative circles on social media. For example, I just clicked on the topic “President Obama.” The first Blue Feed post is an article with the headline “Obama just gave deep advice to young people.” The top Red Feed post is “In Germany, Obama defends anti-Trump protesters.”

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3 Comments
  1. Extremely relevant post! I think as hard as we try to diversify our circles we ultimately end up following people whose viewpoints align with ours as you mentioned above in your post. One thing I’ve tried to do, is voice my opinion in an educated way on social media; and by that I mean supporting a tweet with an article, or a Facebook post with a link to additional reading. The problem: are people actually considering the information I’m putting out there? What make my opinion more relevant than there’s? I don’t think it helps that social media caters to your interests, look at Facebook and niche advertising for example. I think that it is idealistic to believe that everyone on social media will one day come together and appreciate each others opinions and consider all sides of an argument, understand when a meme is conveying fake information etc. etc. It comes down to a matter of agency. Social media is fueled by the people, it’s a space for them to create and destroy, to dump their thoughts into cloud. If social media and news media were to team up though, maybe they could create an app of their own that is geared towards the youth that does something similar to what the WSJ does with “red and blue feed?”

  2. griffc permalink

    It’s really been a sad time on social media this past month or so. I find it very troubling how close-minded most people are. People of all ages seem to be set on their ways and have a tough time opening up to unique ideas or challenging view points. You can never fully support one side of the spectrum if you don’t allow for all of the information to grace you as an individual. The need for “likes” on social media leads to people sharing posts that trash or support a candidate or an idea because they think a large portion of their following base aligns their thoughts to the shared rhetoric. It’s just upsetting that social media has pulled us apart from each other as each side freaks out in their own ways and it seems to be impossible to find a middle ground. I don’t trust any news sources because this whole election has been such a mess. I don’t know what to believe, and I wish more of my peers were more hesitant to believe what they read online.

  3. Lucy permalink

    This is a topic that comes up frequently in my media criticism class. In a way, Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms echoes Big Brother for me. At face value, it seems harmless for social media outlets to attempt to imitate the human tendency to seek like-minded individuals through the internet. After all, lots of people make friends, and even date, online nowadays. But in some ways, I agree that this has pitted Reds against Blues.

    I think journalism has gotten lazy. A lot of outlets, like Huffington Post and the Independent, for example, have written stories based off tweets. The reporters don’t even go far enough to contact the Twitter user for a quote. Twitter and Facebook do, of course, make my life easier as a journalist because I can find the perfect interview subject in a short of amount of time. But it still requires me to *conduct* the interview and at the very least ask for permission to write about the user’s post.

    I believe journalism stems a lot from empathy and that’s why interviews should be done in person. If not, at least over the phone so as to hear the emotion in the subject’s voice.

    I think that’s why a lot of people, and journalists, are frustrated with the media today. We’re failing to represent actual people.

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