Ideological Inflexibility - Echo Chambers on Social Media
In his first article, LOG OFF Writers Group member George Xie finds parallels between a childhood anecdote and a widescale problem within social media and society in this witty opinion piece.
In my 6th grade classroom, we were asked to confirm the existence of the “Pacific Northwest tree octopus.” After an intense five minutes of google searches, our class was able to unanimously agree that we absolutely had to save the elusive “tree octopus,” so elusive a creature, that none of us had even heard of it before! To put an end to this sad tale, the existence of the all shifty tree octopus was nothing but a hoax, a conclusion that we could’ve arrived at if we’d only looked at the second search result on google, labeled “famous internet hoaxes.”
Through processes of affirmative action, radical changes in wealth distribution, and groundbreaking legislation, our world and the voices that occupy it have become increasingly diverse — or, it should be. Through the algorithms that shape what we view on social media, the lens of which we use to observe the world has begun to shrink at an alarming pace.
A study done by researchers at the University of Kansas and Wellesley college has shown that humans have the compulsion to surround themselves with people similar to them , whether that be in personality, race, or socioeconomic status, a fact which social media algorithms continue to capitalize on. These sites continually narrow what they show to users by rigging their constant stream of information to only show us images and ideas that these users would find agreeable based on the millions of hours of data accrued by like-minded users. Oftentimes, these perspectives are professed by a collection of individuals with the same source of information and demographic background, who espouse precisely the same opinions without fail, ironically setting us backward in time.
By exposing ourselves to a constant stream of hegemonic opinions, we open ourselves up to the dangers of juxtaposing a “black and white” view of the world onto the deeply complicated issues that trouble our society, sorting every nuanced opinion into two diametrically opposed camps. This process is excellent at reinforcing reflective beliefs that appeal to people’s intuition, that fall down under real analysis and scrutiny.
This compulsion to tribalism is beautiful—or tragically—paired with the ever-decreasing attention span offered to us through the use of smartphones and social media. Each consecutive post has even more of a shock and awe factor, intended to incite emotions such as anger and contempt at ‘other parties,’ which often cause us to abandon our rationality, which would tell us to check other sources before blindly believing a random post on the internet. With newer and newer posts optimized to appeal to our emotions, it’s no wonder that the few well-articulated and thought-out opinions have fallen under the pile of those that serve to stoke the flames of irrationality.
With such tribalistic tendencies so deeply rooted in human nature, one might find themselves hopeless and lost, confused, and ultimately alienated from mainstream and online media. A tip to those who are struggling with finding what can be taken as the truth, consider first who created what you’re viewing, what their goals might be, and how their creator or publisher is appealing to you. By critically thinking about the issues that require all of your expertise in knowledge, and perusing multiple sources, you can hope to formulate a well-educated opinion that you can gallantly defend, and thus, make yours. Remember though, this process doesn’t come from your all too convincing and attention-seeking Instagram feed, but through the road less travelled, the second search result.
 “Study Finds Our Desire for 'like-Minded Others' Is Hard-Wired.” The University of Kansas, 23 Feb. 2016, news.ku.edu/2016/02/19/new-study-finds-our-desire-minded-others-hard-wired-controls-friend-and-partner.
 uni_copenhagen. “Social Media Harm Our Ability to Act Rationally.” EurekAlert!, 28 Feb. 2014, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/uoc-smh022814.php.
 INTUITIVE AND REFLECTIVE BELIEFS, University of Southampton, cogprints.org/402/1/beliefs.htm#:~:text=Intuitive%20beliefs%20are%20a%20most,the%20architecture%20of%20the%20mind.&text=Reasons%20to%20hold%20%22reflective%20beliefs,favour%20of%20the%20reflective%20belief.
 Boyer, Pascal, and Michael Bang Petersen. “Folk-Economic Beliefs: An Evolutionary Cognitive Model: Behavioral and Brain Sciences.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 12 Oct. 2017, www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences/article/abs/folkeconomic-beliefs-an-evolutionary-cognitive-model/7D84E452710ACCC6A35D49B8590B614F.
Cover photo by Serena Repice Lentini on Unsplash