We love to praise the digital age because of the unparalleled freedom of speech it has heralded over the past decade, but amidst those songs of praise, we might be forgetting the dark side of this, especially when it comes to political engagement. The internet is a breeding ground for many things ranging from pictures of cats to freely distributable pornography, but this nothing quite as worrying as the number of political echo chambers.
To clarify my point, an echo chamber is the term for an online community filled with like-minded individuals who constantly echo their opinions back at each other, reinforcing each individual’s beliefs to the point that it becomes closed-minded to other points of view. These environments are typically home to individuals who, as part of an undifferentiated ego mass, will aggressively reject anyone with a different opinion. Political echo chambers (once referred to by Ivan Krastev as “political ghettos”) are forums where people can just doggedly cling on to your political alignment, but they never have to get used to anyone disagreeing with them.
This is dangerous for two reasons. Firstly, these political echo chambers are bad for intelligent political discourse because the people in them create an environment of intimidation designed to bring down anyone who might disagree. At this rate, internet has become the worst place for political discourse ever known, worse even than American television.
The second reason is because they give political discussion a bad name, since in these echo chambers (which most people call message boards), the most popular opinions are always the loudest, as opposed to the most articulate and intelligent opinions. For a lot of people, it seems that this is all politics is, but the internet is the only thing we have to blame. In recent times, politicians have grasped the idea that you need only to manipulate people’s emotions in order to gain their support. If you can manipulate the hearts and minds of the people, you can easily garner votes.
The worst part about these echo chambers is that we can’t really do anything about them. Because the internet is a haven of free speech, doing anything to disrupt that would be immoral, which is unfortunate because there are more problems out there than just the echo chambers. It’s also important to consider people will invariably search for these place because they tell them what they want to hear. Sadly, this is how these political echo chambers operate and survive. If you can ignore them, then that’s probably the best thing you can do.