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Echo Chambers in Media and Social Networks

Discussion held at the Westminster Reference Library in February 2016.

Our perception of reality – and of the choices that we have in life – has always been influenced by our surroundings: education, friends, favourite newspaper, social media. On the one hand this allows us to live our values among like-minded people but on the other, it can oversimplify reality and deceive us.

An echo chamber is a group situation where information, ideas and beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition, while different or competing views are censored, disallowed or otherwise under-represented. Echo chambers (also called bubbles) have evolved throughout history, from beliefs shared by a tribe to State-run propaganda from television to social media.

During this discussion, we explored what are contemporary echo chambers, how much they are an issue, or alternatively may be a way to bring people together. We discussed our strategies to escape from them: where do we turn up to get a quick look at the reality outside our bubble, where are other contemporary lookouts.

We were more specifically interested in online echo chambers (filter bubbles): news portals, Facebook feed, filtered Google searches, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks. Do they reinforce our bubble, making us feel good in an otherwise chaotic world, or do they confront us with a complex reality that we might otherwise have missed?

Thanks to Dr Ellen Helsper, Associate Professor at the Media and Communications Department of the London School of Economics and Political Science, for having joined the conversation!