What do most people look at when they search for news and information about what is going on in the world today? Let me answer that for you: they look at the things out there that agree with them. If liberal, they look at CNN and read the Twitter feeds of rich Hollywood celebrities. If conservative, they go out to Fox News and listen to Republican radio hosts.
On both sides, they then go on social media, their Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit or forum accounts and talk with their friends about what is going on in the world today. They discuss politicians, policies, what has happened, what should have happened, what is happening, what ought to happen and so on and so forth. They listen to what they want to hear and talk to people who agree with them. Anytime someone has an opinion that is different, it is ignored or lambasted with fiery internet rage. People don’t have to listen to the other sides anymore. They only have to hear their own opinions echoed back to them, all day long. This phenomenon, which reinforces and radicalizes those who undergo it, is called The Echo Chamber, and it is incredibly dangerous.
This phenomenon seems odd when you think about the freedom of communication that we have in the modern day. After all, anyone can choose to say anything online, free of consequence from anywhere on earth! What one may not grasp is that the inverse is also true; that one may choose to listen to anything as well. We can all choose what we consume and most of us choose to consume things that are palatable to us.
This is natural but also a problem. When we only consume what is palatable, we wind up forgetting or becoming sheltered toward what is not palatable. This, in turn, makes us less accommodating toward other points of view, especially opposing opinions. We become radicalized, we move further toward the right or the left, and we become less willing to listen to moderates. In a cruel twist of irony, the sheer freedom of communication that we currently enjoy is what is shutting down sensible debate.
This radicalization is responsible for the virulent outrage of the Democratic party, and for the clownishness evident in Republicans and their current, floundering president. It is responsible for moralizing internet bills passing the EU parliament, the UK leaving the EU, the slow collapse of the Indian courts, the rise of hatred in France, neo-Nazis in Scandinavia, the crackdowns in Russia and China, and so many other things around the world right now. The Echo Chamber is pushing people toward extremes, and the politicians follow or exploit the shifting tides. This can be seen all over. In fact, the EU parliament recently held an election and the moderate parties lost many seats. Who gained those seats? Radicals and extremists on both sides of the spectrum.
This trend will only continue. Nothing can be done to undo it. The internet is a place of freedom, where all can choose what they say and listen to. This phenomenon will only grow over the coming years as the internet itself grows, evolves and ensnares us more and more. To prognosticate doom would perhaps be overzealous, but democracy is already changing as a result of this and The Echo Chamber will definitely force something, somewhere to break and give. All we can do is brace ourselves and try to hold on tight.