Victor Tangermann’s article, “Actually, Social Media Isn’t An Echo Chamber” (https://futurism.com/social-media-is-not-echo-chamber/), claims that: “Social media might not be the filter bubble we make it out to be. Quite the contrary — having access to a social media feed could, in fact, push us to get our news from a wider variety of sources.”
Apparently, he is of the belief, in the Internet age, that a social media ‘echo chamber’ is merely the simplest of self-censorships: “we confine ourselves to news bubbles”; that, “[w]e wrap ourselves in a warm blanket of news that reinforces our beliefs and opinions back to us”; that, “Facebook News Feed is an echo chamber, reinforcing each person’s political and ethical stances.”
This simple equating of levels of information exposure to inverse levels of ‘bubble’ filtration or censorship, is not the significant issue at play. ‘Big, bad, corporations and governments’ do not at all have to engage in such primitive manipulations, though it’s not the case that they have desisted from this. It’s not necessary, not when considerable sections of the public themselves can do it for them. Not only do it, but advocate for considerably more extreme and sophisticated forms of it.
Identity politics, of whatever kind, too often, occurs in corporate-hosted arenas, in which the so-called ‘public’, knowingly and unknowingly, enthusiastically do the bidding of wider, corporate interests, usually because they derive some psychological and/or financial benefit from doing so.
Marketing campaigns are most easily conducted through targeting market sectors according to mass categorical relevance, in short, through market identification. Production imperatives often obligate ‘market creation’, which entails identity construction. Identity construction, is most easily achieved through simple opposition. Without opposition, the identity in question cannot determine itself, at least not according to the classical, Occidental demands for determinate identity, apprehensively delimited and in tangible form. It’s required for all ‘divide and rule’ operations, too.
No one is saying that because people choose to live in a bubble of constrained belief that they are going to practice a total censorship through outright suppression of alternative information. That the article has been written as if such a belief were the case, actually emerges out of, and caters for, the simplistic literalism that it attempts to modify. It’s a typical example of the kind of positivist and dogmatic ghettos wherein lazy, obstinate, and arrogant, thinking, attempt to surreptitiously install their hegemonic dominance. That’s not how it actually works.
At the risk of repeating such stupidity, it might be that further explication is called for.
The article is correct in describing the emotional entrenchment that takes place through oppositional discourse and exchanges. It is through these general and informal discursivities of exchange, that misrepresentations of opposing tendencies are formed. The identity warrior surveys a range of media, not just those directly affirming held identity, but also those media belonging to the opposition, or potential opposition, as a kind of reconnaissance of enemy territory.
This has been observed on the Internet for decades.
On virtual worlds, such as Second Life, it is easy to observe people quite deliberately seeking out ideological opponents, whatever the ideology concerned. Much of this has to do with the domestication of cyberspace, giving familiar and determinate form to the limitlessness of possibility that the Internet enables. There are no passports on much of the Internet, no common set of standards by which to organise identity exchanges. This then eventuates in a general situation of personal obligation and responsibility, as far as identity expression is concerned. What can thus be observed, is a scenario whereby those most inculcated with dogmatic styles of ideological expression, those most hostile to the unfamiliar and the unknown, are the most aggressively proactive of identity warriors, and the most insistent and devious practitioners of disingenuous misrepresentation.
The resulting chaos serves the interests of the same dogmatic cultural groupings that it has served in the past. At the same time as the Internet enables greater communication, this movement produces greater levels of reactionary irresponsibility and denial.
The construction of identity bubbles, previously catered for by national governments and media, has now devolved to islands of local enthusiasm, and their often hysterical productions. Accessibility to all global information is also susceptible to the full range of global interpretations, inclusive of the ignorances of extremist hysteria. These identity-gang tendencies have always been there, they were not necessarily or wholly invented by governments or corporations, even though they might be manipulated by them, or even arise out of them. In fact, a government or corporation itself can be considered as a ‘gang’.
The xenophobic impulse is, largely speaking, the origin of social identity in all militarised regimes. This impulse perpetuates itself through the people, themselves, and the Internet merely allows the expression of that fact.
It’s not that the Internet or social media is necessarily an “echo chamber”. Echo chambers are deliberately desired and constructed, for whatever reasons, to produce echo effects. The desire for an echoic existence is usually positioned psychologically, as a figure of narcissism. The ‘culture of narcissism’, as described by Christopher Lasch, in the 1970s, never went away. What can be observed, is this culture, very much a corollary of consumerist culture, repackaging itself as virtualised, social conflict. As previously stated, this repackaging has been quietly engineered over the last few decades, in virtual worlds and in computer gaming. It’s a repackaging, as both virtualised identity and opposition. What is at play, is the commodification of the unconscious, itself. Ironically, though it expresses and produces conspiracies and paranoia, aplenty, there is no actual conspiracy behind it, at least nothing beyond the people’s tacit consent and desire. The atavistic desire for romanticising fantasy nostalgias, seen in so many contemporary media productions, is merely a commodified escape route from the disciplines of incessant production, but one that has seemingly become itself an ‘incessant production’, showing all else in the light of this productive insistence. Hence, the hysteria and ‘fake news’. The simulacrum has merely announced itself.
The article merely outlines a simplistic, behavioural explanation directed towards altering a simplistic literalism that, in any case, only an ignorant attitude would entertain. That such obviousness requires the expression of an entire article to indicate, is itself a symptom of mass cultural identity presupposition, one that perhaps sustains the slow, decelerating and simplifying obligations of its own identity game.