Academics issue online 'echo chambers' warning
Echo chambers and the political polarisation effect OR Echo chambers and the polarisation effect OR Academics warn online world is echo chamber
"Echo chambers" and "filter bubbles" in online social networks, in which users prefer to interact only with ideologically aligned peers and only seek out information that reinforces their existing views, can increase political polarisation, academics warn.
Pirongrong Ramasoota, a professor at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Communication Arts, said when a person gets all their news and political arguments from social media pages and all their friends who share their political views, they are in an echo chamber where they hear arguments and evidence only from their side of the political spectrum. They are not exposed to the other side's views.
"An echo chamber leads its members to distrust everybody outside of that chamber. Screening out material that does not conform to their existing preferences may form virtual cliques, insulating thems from opposing points of view, and reinforcing their biases," she said.
Prof Pirongrong said the danger of echo chambers is that they can limit opportunities for growth and stem healthy and necessary debate.
"The perpetual affirmation of our own beliefs that occurs within an echo chamber obviously causes division and polarisation. And, polarised communities and societies lack the social capital that is necessary to work together on shared problems and common issues," she said.
Prof Pirongrong said that the bubbles can be "popped" by exposing insiders to the arguments they've missed, adding that there should be more open forums on social media where people from both sides can debate on neutral ground.
"While there is a clear benefit to be gained in having everyone thinking along the same lines, democracy needs diversity and checks and balances to work," she said.
Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist and lecturer at Thammasat University, said political polarisation is a global phenomenon, underpinned by economic inequality and weak democratic foundations.
"It's true that echo chambers can obstruct the flow of information, but it's just a symptom, not the root cause of the problem. If you want to reduce polarisation, you need to fix the root causes," he said.
Academic and activist Sarinee Achavanuntakul said she was not worried about echo chambers among citizens because it's natural that people love reading things that fortify and confirm their own opinions.
"What concerns me is that the government is using taxpayers' money to sow divisions within society through its so-called Information Operations," she said.