Snopestionary: What is an Echo Chamber?

Speak like an insider! Welcome to Snopestionary, where we define a fact-checking term or jargon that we use across the Snopes team. Do you have a term you want us to explain? Let us know.

Like an echo repeating what you said to you, social echo chambers amplify our own viewpoints and perspectives, both in person and more recently online.

As the name suggests, an echo chamber is described by the Oxford Learning Dictionary as “an environment in which a person encounters only information or opinions that reflect and reinforce his own.” These closed social circles pose a particular type of media literacy challenge, as they hinder a person’s ability to see and understand perspectives and beliefs other than their own, while at the same time reinforcing potentially incorrect and even dangerous information.

The University of Texas at Austin Moody College of Communications Remarks that social media can be particularly good at creating echo chambers because all platforms serve the same basic function: “bringing groups of like-minded users together about shared content preferences.” Echo chambers are comfortable for many of us because they’re bespoke spaces that reflect our own beliefs and confirm perspectives.

This unity of perspective creates what is called that confirmation biasor the likelihood that a person will favor viewpoints not because they are based on an accurate perception of reality, but because they reinforce their beliefs.

“Information can come from many different sources and perspectives. But if you keep hearing the same perspectives and opinions, you may find yourself in what’s known as an echo chamber,” says the online education tool Learn GCF for free.

Suppose you have a border collie as a pet. Your love for your dog has led you to find Facebook groups or Instagram pages dedicated to the breed. Other people who subscribe to these accounts may share a similar love for their best friend, and this shared love for the breed might lead followers to believe that because there are so many like-minded border collie lovers out there, the breed is obvious superior, cuter and smarter than everyone else.

It’s a cute example, but most cases of echo chambers that the Snopes editorial team encounters on the internet are far less fluffy and harmless.

Ironically, despite a free flow of unlimited information available online, access to social media has limited users’ exposure to different perspectives, researchers wrote in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS“favor[s] the formation of groups of like-minded users that form and reinforce a shared narrative, i.e., echo chambers.” In an analysis of more than 100 million pieces of controversial social media content, including those related to gun control, vaccination and abortion, the study authors came 2021 concludes that social media echo chambers form aggregations of users in like-minded clusters that dominate online interactions on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

These clusters contribute to the spread of misinformation, Scientific American reported while distorting some people’s perspectives to the point where they are unable to see or understand opposing viewpoints. They may also have trouble discussing complicated issues because the circles they scroll in only reinforce their pre-existing beliefs.

Echo chambers take place wherever information is exchanged, for example at political rallies or in community groups that share the same opinions. Quite often, the claims and ideas that Snopes aims to address circulate in online echo chambers. This is because the internet is an easy place to find someone who shares the same beliefs.

Says Snopes

How do you know if you’re stuck in an echo chamber? First, listen to the people talking around you and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I hearing the same ideas and viewpoints over and over again?
  • Does this group tend to accept only one point of view or opinion on the subject?
  • Is it rare for someone to cite evidence to support this view?
  • Does this point of view seem to be mainly based on unconfirmed rumours?
  • Are conflicting facts or ideas discouraged or ignored?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may be in an echo chamber. So how do you avoid ending up in one in the first place?

How to avoid an echo chamber

When something is presented as fact, consider the evidence (or lack thereof) and think critically about that stance. To do this, check multiple sources for complete and objective information from credible sources. (Both NewsGuard and Media bias/fact check are tools that make a source’s bias and objectivity transparent.)

Next, expand your media consumption and look for additional sources that have opinions different from your own. Looking through a broader media lens sometimes allows for a more complete picture of an urgent issue.

Remember that wanting something to be true doesn’t make it a fact. Put in the work to determine for yourself whether an attitude is truly based on fact. In doubt, don’t share it.

Finally, don’t be afraid to interact with people of different beliefs, or seek dialogue with those who have new ideas.

Curious how the writers of Snopes verify information and create their stories for the public? We’ve collected a few posts that explain how we do what we do. Enjoy reading and let us know what else might interest you.


Sources:

Cinelli, Matteo et al. “The Echo Chamber Effect on Social Media.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 118, No. 9, March 2021, p. e2023301118. DOI.org (cross reference),

Conversation, Filippo Menczer, Die. “Fake News Online Spreads Across Social Echo Chambers.” Scientific American, Accessed June 24, 2022.

Dapcevich, Madison. “I’m breaking fake news for Snopes. This is how I spot viral hoaxes, photoshops, ‘deepfakes,’ and misinformation.” Business Insider, accessed June 24, 2022.

“Digital Media Literacy: What is an Echo Chamber?” GCFGlobal.Org, accessed 24 June 2022.

Echo chamber noun – definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage instructions | Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary at OxfordLearnersDictionaries.Com. Retrieved June 24, 2022.

Nickerson, Raymond S. “Confirmation Bias: A Pervasive Phenomenon in Many Manifestations.” Review of General Psychology, vol. 2, no. 2, June 1998, pp. 175-220. DOI.org (cross reference),

What is a social media echo chamber? | Stan Richards School of Advertising. Retrieved June 24, 2022.

https://www.snopes.com/articles/428074/what-is-an-echo-chamber/ Snopestionary: What is an Echo Chamber?

Brian Ashcraft

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