How Social Media Created an Echo Chamber for Ideas

In the early days of social media, idealists dreamed of a digital market place for ideas, the kind that might help rejuvenate a democracy too often given over to distractions.

In the early days of social media, idealists dreamed of a digital market place for ideas, the kind that might help rejuvenate a democracy too often given over to distractions. If communication were nearly effortless, the reasoning went, people would have much less to lose by listening to those of different ideological stripes. Today, however, sociologists have concluded that social media often entrench people's ideological positions and even make those positions more extreme. Witness the age of a bitterly divided America.


Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein has studied this phenomenon at length, finding that deliberation among a group of likeminded people moves the group toward a more extreme point of view. 

"The mere discussion of, or deliberation over, a certain matter or opinion in a group may shift the position of the entire group in a more radical direction. The point of view of each group member may even shift to a more extreme version of the viewpoint they entertained before deliberating."

Thus individuals, companies, and other organization looking to understand the world in new ways must develop tools to deliberately include opinions that they do not agree with. The problem of general agreement to the exclusion of new ideas is particularly a problem in our universities, explains Harvard english professor Louis Menand in his Big Think interview:

Read more at the Conversation

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less