Echo chamber?

中国日报网 2016-11-18 13:48



Echo chamber?Reader question:

Please explain “echo chamber” in this sentence: People are drawn to the echo chamber, and they want to have their opinions validated more often than they want to have their opinions challenged.

My comments:

The echo chamber in politics refers to a group of people who share the same political views. In this group, forum or arena, they share their identical views with each other while at the same time condemn other views regardless as to whether they have a point.

In America, for example, people who are very conservative (e.g. a lot of Republicans aged 70 or older) watch Fox News on TV while many liberals (young Democrats, for example) read things like the New York Times or Los Angeles Times or

A lot of these people stay in their echo chamber and never mix with others. As a result and in consequence, over a long period of time, they no longer understand each other at all. Or, worse, some begin to hate each other.

The upshot is, people become intolerant of each other, be it due to party affiliation, religion, skin color, sexual orientation or what have you. Society as a whole becomes divided and fragmented.

Tensions ensue and, needless to say, any social progress becomes difficult of accomplishment in this type of environment.

Yes, but what does “echo chamber” mean exactly?

Oh, an echo chamber is originally a hollow room (chamber) used to produce reverberated sounds (echoes), usually for recording purposes. In this enclosed room, if you make a sound, this sound will, like a ball bouncing off the walls and the floor, reverberate, producing echoes. In other words, you hear the same sound again and again.

Hence and therefore in a political echo chamber, you hear the same arguments over and over again, ad infinitum.

Or ad nauseam because, as a matter of fact, echo-chamber arguments can become nauseating.

Anyways, you get the point.

To a lesser degree, by the way, our WeChat groups are our own echo chambers. We within our group all share the same interests and hobbies. Well, birds of a feather flock together, as they say. We share the same politics, too, more or less – anyone who says anything contrary to our beliefs will get lambasted without delay – and soon enough get thrown out.

If, that is, if they fail to black-list us first.

In this environment, public debates, on any subject, becomes difficult.

And that is not good, of course.

Safe to say, it’ll do all of us good to step out of our own echo chamber and mingle with outsiders and hear what they have to say.

They may have a point.

And that is the whole point – it is healthy for us as individuals to remain open minded.

Healthy, too, for society at large to be tolerant and inclusive.

Now, media examples of various echo chambers at work:

1. By rights, the internet should be doing more than anything else to open our eyes to new perspectives and experiences. We’re moving away from that: as the web becomes increasingly tailored to the individual, we're more likely than ever to be served personalised content that makes us happy and keeps us clicking. That happy content is seldom anything that challenges our viewpoint, and there’s a risk that this distorts our view of the wider world outside our browser.

On the surface of it, personalisation has had a positive effect on the way the internet works both for advertisers who target products at us, and for consumers, who enjoy the finely honed free content that’s funded by the effective advertising: everybody wins.

If you use the internet reasonably regularly, you will have seen examples of this, some more subtle than others: Netflix pushes films and shows based on your viewing habits, Twitter will suggest who you might like to follow by cross checking who your peers are, and as Eli Pariser’s “Filter Bubble” TED Talk demonstrates, Google will offer dramatically different search results based on a bunch of factors, even if you’re not logged in. Facebook’s algorithm works overtime, tailoring your newsfeed based on who you routinely interact with, and it’s far from perfect. Regularly like or comment on someone’s statuses?

They’ll pop up all the time, no matter whether they’ve just made a sandwich or won the lottery. Someone you tend to ignore will get brushed under the carpet -- sometimes for major life events, like the birth of a child or their imminent wedding.

Superficially, perfecting this is a good thing. Afterall, who doesn’t want to be surrounded by like-minded people and sheltered from aspects of life they’d rather avoid, be it irritating friends they added on Facebook to avoid social embarrassment, or articles that make them angry? The trouble is that by accepting this personalisation, we're insulating ourselves from viewpoints that differ from our own, inadvertently reinforcing our view of the world, and closing our minds to new ideas and experiences.

The premise of the echo-chamber effect is simple, although there has been little academic study into it: if you surround yourself with voices that echo similar opinions to those you’re feeding out, they will be reinforced in your mind as mainstream, to the point that it can distort your perception of what is the general consensus. Graham Jones, an internet psychologist tells me that if the echo-chamber effect exists, it’s part of social constructivism and how we shape the world around us differently from others for all kinds of reasons: “There is some evidence, for instance, that people who speak different languages actually do construct the world around them slightly differently... So, the echo-chamber effect is part of what I would expect as a psychologist -- as like-minded people get together, they tend to shape their version of the world according to what they are talking about and hence it inevitably becomes biased.”

- The web’s ‘echo chamber’ leaves us none the wiser,, May 1, 2013.

2. President Barack Obama won a second four-year term in office this past week thanks in large part to a strong voter turnout from the same Democratic coalition that helped first elect him four years ago -- women, minorities and young people.

The diverse and youthful voting coalition behind President Obama was on full display at an election night watch party at a nearby bistro. The president benefitted from a strong turnout among women, African Americans, Hispanics and younger voters.

“Women and minorities put Barack Obama over the top, and there should be a big, huge red-letter warning sign for Republicans that they can’t win just with their white Protestant base,” notes Lichtman. “We are increasingly becoming a non-white nation.”


The crowd at the Romney election party in Washington was predominantly white and universally disappointed.

While Romney won a majority of white voters in the election, he had less success in winning over women, younger people and minority voters.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell says that will have to change.

“I think the Republicans have to recognize that they have to get beyond their echo chamber and actually help make inroads with other groups,” O’Connell says, “because there are a lot of pre-conceived notions about Republicans that some minority groups harbor, and it’s up to Republicans to reach out and sort of change that perception.”

When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, white voters made up 85 percent of the electorate. This year they only made up 72 percent.

- Analysts Say Diverse Coalition Helped Obama Win Election,, November 09, 2012.

3. Encouraged by their echo chamber—where dissent is not tolerated and rich, white men cling to the power they fear is slipping away—conservatives have grown brazen. Over the past decade, tropes that were once strategically hidden from mass public consumption have crept into view.

They’ve done away with dog whistles and veiled misogyny, nominating a man who is the very embodiment of bigotry and entitlement. Were he less orange, he’d be White Privilege personified.

Listening to Republicans and their mouthpieces wax nostalgic about the good ol’ days while justifying their denial of rights and agency to everyone from same-sex couples wanting to marry to people in need of abortion care the past several election cycles has left me wondering if they aren’t simply defending political/”moral” positions.

More and more I have found myself considering a rather terrifying question: Do Republicans simply not know what consent means?

- Does The GOP Not Understand Consent?, by Katie Klabusich, November 7, 2016.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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