Sunday, 13 November 2016

Listening outside of the echo chamber

I've been listening to people outside of my echo chamber and I don't like what I hear.

Wikipedia defines an echo chamber as
A metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an "enclosed" system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.
The people I follow and engage with from @philrumens are by and large those that I respect. The people I'm friends with on Facebook I have some real-world connection with. The people I'm connected with through LinkedIn I have some sort of professional link to. I operate in a social media echo chamber.

So I thought I'd start another Twitter account. I thought I'd follow and interact with people I didn't agree with. I thought I'd be prepared for differing opinions. What I found was an undercurrent of hate and intolerance I'd never encountered before.

Initially it's a liberating experience. Unbound by any constraints that might be imposed by one's professional role or reputation you're free to say what you like within the bounds of the law. It's nice being able to be overtly political for example.

As you peer deeper though there's a cauldron of hate. There's a mass of people who hate those who don't agree with them, hate those that are different, hate anything that challenges their narrow view of how thing are. Whether truly believed or done just to troll, the effect is the same.

Once a lie enters an echo chamber it's often amplified until it becomes the unquestioned truth. If enough people you know are saying it, it must be right, right? If this were limited to a few people believing untruths it wouldn't be so bad, but the reverberations in each echo chamber have consequences for us all, and our society.

Traditional media pundits still wonder how Brexit and Trump happened. How they got it wrong again and, then again. I think it's fairly obvious. Millions of people form their opinions based on the "word of mouth" of social media. People trust their network over experts and facts, and if their opinion is being influenced by deliberate lies, hatred and Twitter Bots then we're in trouble.

So what's to be done?

The easiest things we can change are those that we control ourselves, so start by acknowledging your own echo chamber and break out. Become an ambassador for the truth and social cohesion. I know facts aren't in fashion right now but put forward your views based on things that are provably legitimate. Engage with others' echo chambers by questioning hate and lies, not in an adversarial manner, but with a tone of reconciliation.

To borrow a phrase, let's take back control.

This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.