Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | Rabi' al-awwal 11, 1445 H
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The ‘Echo Chamber’ phenomenon


When we see people protesting, particularly on social and environmental issues, have you ever noticed how it can be difficult to empathise, or sympathise, with them?

To be honest, I thought it was just me being me. Mature, white, middle-class-ish, set in my ways, and that this lack of empathy for many of their objectives was a ‘me’ issue.

But the more I think about it, the more I am leaning towards feeling that we, protestors, and I, have so little common ground in terms of the people we surround ourselves with, the environments in which we live, and critically, our open-ness to a diversity of opinion.

In a manner of speaking, either we have a determination to maintain and/or keep what we have, or we are open to change, to sharing, to letting others in, either to our world, our societies, or our environments. Captains of commerce, politicians, and financial ‘wizards,’ often speak of being honest, and yet today, and history, bear the scars of rank dishonesty, and dismissal of contradictions as acceptance because, “everyone else is doing it!”

Honesty though, is not a dependent noun. It doesn’t need a collective basis to be proven in the manner of that which, if you hear it often enough... it must be true.

We are on dangerous ground if we immerse ourselves in the echo chamber of the mind where everything we say and do is, or becomes, the rationale, the vindication, and eventually perhaps, the absolution, for those words and deeds.

In psychology, it is “an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own. Echo chambers can create misinformation and distort a person's perspective, so they have difficulty considering opposing viewpoints and discussing complicated topics.”

The echo chamber effect identifies, and eventually amplifies the passions, the borderline obsessions, and the latent prejudices that eventually will define us as individuals, and by focussing on those vulnerabilities, it legitimises them, exponentially developing their significance in their lives.

The echo chamber effect becomes much more sinister online when like-minded individuals find solace, comfort, and support, however facile or disingenuous, that develops a kind of tunnel vision where one can likely have their opinions initially sustained, and eventually made to feel essential. An ‘echoing’ process of sycophancy results in their beliefs being so overwhelmingly supported, and argument so excluded, the absolute-ness of their stance becomes the essential reality.

The fear, based upon many experiences with the current teen generation, and its internet obsessions, is that extremism and polarisation could emerge from the chatroom environments. These young people don’t know who they are speaking and listening to... the face on the screen could be far removed from the reality, and to a genuine extent, we can find ourselves, whether as teachers or parents, facing ‘backed-into-a-corner’ situations where their burgeoning, fragile, and untried trust, even their faith, can be manipulated by something more dangerous than stronger individuals.

Can you imagine? Your teen has strong opinions about a football club and goes online to talk to others with the same enthusiasm. They end up having a quality, for them, experience, and become firm supporters of the club. Healthy, yes, sure and who can be critical. It may be healthy, harmless, and in fact, entirely positive.

But what of the next big question in their lives... and you can think of a hundred topics... where they feel they need to talk, to listen, to be heard, and it’s a little more critical, and draws a different audience?

The way identities can be manipulated today we must be wary of who, and given technological and AI developments, what our teens are talking to, and genuinely be wary of the dark side. Radicalisation is not the enemy to be wary of; isolation though, certainly is!

Be aware, and be alert because that echo could just herald a chamber of horrors.

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