Sruthi Dhulipala
Sep 27, 2023

The echo chamber effect: How algorithms shape our worldview

While we hold information at our fingertips, it’s also becoming essential we know how to be responsible with it. By challenging our own biases and actively seeking diverse perspectives, we can break free from the confines of the echo chamber and promote intellectual growth, argues PR Concierge's Sruthi Dhulipala.

Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.
Imagine a world where your beliefs and opinions are endlessly reinforced, where your perspective is
never challenged, and alternative viewpoints are virtually non-existent.
 
In the media world, we call this the echo chamber.
 
This digital bubble, driven by algorithms and personalisation, reinforces our existing viewpoints and
filters through the lenses of confirmation bias. And it is not just a matter of personal choice; it has
profound implications for how we perceive the world and engage in online discourse.

Confirmation bias, deeply ingrained in human psychology, is the inclination to seek, interpret, and
remember information that aligns with our existing beliefs. It's more like our brain's default setting, and it's what makes social media platforms so addictive. Simply put, today’s platforms thrive by delivering content that reinforces our preconceived notions, keeping us engaged and generating revenue off of our views and engagement.
 
Based on what we like, retweet, share, and repost, we’re feeding the algorithm inputs to give us a continuous stream of content that aligns with our views—forming a digital cocoon that isolates
us from alternative perspectives.
 
The Business of Echo Chambers
 
While echo chambers may be seen as detrimental from a societal perspective, they serve as a
double-edged sword for tech giants like X (formerly Twitter) and Meta. These digital bubbles not only keep users engaged, but also enable the companies to sell more advertising. This financial allure creates a complex dilemma. While user engagement lies at the heart of the business models, as long as echo chambers drive revenue, there's little financial incentive for these platforms to use their influence wisely.

Just like any other gamble, the house always wins. And our favorite media platforms are designed to
ensure they profit more than their users. So, it’s essential to choose your interactions and engagements wisely when navigating these digital spaces. While it may seem like you have a chance to win big by participating in discussions and debates online, the reality is just the opposite.
 
Are Information Bubbles Harmful?

While it helps niche content creators find their audience, information filtering also fosters a troubling
disconnect between the online realm and the diverse perspectives in the real world. Eli Pariser, in his
book 'The Filter Bubble', highlights the danger of algorithms tailoring content to user preferences, creating information bubbles that shield citizens from uncomfortable and important viewpoints. The more these platforms learn about users, the narrower the spectrum of information they present, reinforcing pre-existing beliefs.
 
Take Whatsapp in India, for example, where people send news and confirm their pre-existing views every day. In India, most middle-aged WhatsApp users tend to get their news through forwarded messages, which might or might not be rumored or false. A recent study by researchers Shaheen Kanthawala and Jessica Maddox in 2021 sheds light on these dynamics at play. They conducted 19 in-depth interviews with Indian WhatsApp users aged over 40—the study uncovered three overarching themes.
 
First, the users seldom determined the accuracy of the information they encountered.
 
Second, they acknowledged familiarity with politically polarising content but claimed to avoid active engagement with it.
 
Third, they expressed a desire for more effective content moderation on WhatsApp.
 
This is an excellent example of how the internet and social media are providing a platform for niche groups to form and confirm their insular perspectives, whether it’s a left-wing, right-wing opinion, or topics like anti-vaccination and more.
 
How Do We Break Free From An Echo Chamber?

To kill confirmation bias, you need to embrace disconfirmation. It's easy to be swept away by the content you usually consume and spend hours doing it. Still, it takes conscious effort to seek out polarising views and commit to patiently absorbing the knowledge, even if it means agreeing to disagree.
  • Diversify your views, content consumption, and conversations in person: Follow accounts and pages that challenge your beliefs and provide a broader spectrum of viewpoints.
     
  • Engage thoughtfully: Avoid the temptation to react impulsively to content that confirms your biases.
     
  • Pause, reflect, and consider alternative perspectives.
     
  • Engage in respectful and constructive discussions with those who hold opposing views.
     
  • Focus on understanding: Find common ground.
     
  • Create boundaries for your online engagement: Spend more time connecting with people offline to foster a balanced perspective.
While we hold information at our fingertips, it’s also becoming essential we know how to be responsible
with it. By challenging our own biases and actively seeking diverse perspectives, we can break free from the confines of the echo chamber and promote intellectual growth.

Sruthi Dhulipala is a PR Manager at PR Concierge.

Source:
Campaign Asia

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