The Pros and Cons of Echo Chambers in Social Media

Let’s face it; we are all completely obsessed with social media. I’m extremely guilty of this; not a day passes when I haven’t checked my Facebook (several times!), fired off a few tweets and had a browse through Pinterest. However, I recently read a blog post by Ciaran Norris in which he questions whether the internet has in essence become a big echo chamber- we hear what we want and do not venture far from our own personal safety nets where people share our opinions and beliefs. He argues that debate is dead due to this evolution of online media. A really interesting read, that got me thinking; what is the impact of these echo chambers on social media networks?

When you take a step back and look at it, it would seem that the big social networks are inherently designed to allow these echo chambers to form; on Facebook you only see news from your friends, the people whom you have decide to allow into your community therefore have some shared interest or relationship with. Likewise on Twitter, you choose who to follow and interact with. It could be argued that social media sites such as StumbleUpon and Pinterest somewhat attempt to alleviate this, allowing us to find new and interesting things. However, I don’t think these sites are as free from echo chambers as you would hope. You can set preferences and interests on StumbleUpon and follow boards and people on Pinterest that interest you.

So what does this mean for social media? My initial reaction was one of horror! I have always believed that the internet is a brilliant way to discover new and exciting things and broaden our horizons, not become stuck parroting each other’s views and staying where we feel safe in the knowledge that our views and ideals are the consensus. Where is the innovation and interest?

However, after closer inspection, I believe there are both pros and cons to the echo chamber effect- we should be aware of both of these before deciding whether they are bad or good for the social media.

The cons of echo chambers are clear to perceive:

  • We are less likely to find new and interesting articles and opinions on the internet, decreasing interesting debate and discussion
  • We are so embroiled in our own social media echo chamber that it might become detrimental if we are utilizing our social media networks to promote a business; I have seen businesses become so excited about getting involved with social media that they forget to target their customers, rather engaging in echo chambers with others in their field.
  • Social media is completely dependent upon seeing something that someone you follow has followed, Retweeted or liked; if we restrict ourselves to these safe little communities how can we find anything completely new? This could prove very problematic for businesses trying to get the word out about their company.

Yet, I think that if you are using social media as a business, there are some very distinct pros to be found from echo chambers:

  • Find the echo chamber communities of your customers and engage with them. This could bring a whole new range of clients to your business. Find the most frequent tweeter or poster and communicate with them, meaning information about your company may filter more quickly to those less active members
  • Communicate with key players in your field of business. As long as you do not ignore your customers, engaging in the community of the big fish in your field could be invaluable for advice, tips and ideas.

I think that echo chambers are interesting in both good and bad ways for social media and internet usage. When used cleverly, this effect of social media could be a brilliant marketing tool. Just be careful not to let them take over your internet usage; keep investigating fresh and exciting things and engaging with your customers.