On "Echo Chambers"

In my view, the term “echo chamber” is rapidly approaching “political correctness” as a way for individuals to try to slow or halt the progress of progressive discussions. When I see it as it’s been commonly employed, I read it as individuals being worried that they will lose the audience for their free speech (freeze peach).

To be sure, echo-chambers are a legitimate phenomenon. I just don’t think that dropping EC into conversations about forum governance are an effective method of argumentation (or even conversation). It smacks too much of libertarian shorthand for “I want laissez faire commenting.” And, thus, EC seems to be turning into a rhetorical device to be used against the concept of “safe spaces.”



Thoughts: Most persons who are “concerned” about them seem to think they can bully people into their particular POV through constant exposure and don’t care that others find their views tiring.

The issue we face is not subjective “echo chambers” but persons not living in the same reality as the rest of us. Filtering out bad information and invalid perspectives is essential, not harmful. Passively would be ideal, but since we’ve got social media overload and information coming at us every which way, tools to avoid stuff that’s consistently tiresome help us get through the day.

I don’t think it even needs getting into the “safe spaces”, I’d rather focus on information and fun versus the usual tired empathy-free narratives and high school drama that follows such fruitless “discussions”. It’s their culture or how they argue, and I accept that.

It’s a bit funny (I don’t know if I’d suggest self-justifying…) how the same argumenters are horrified that a person wouldn’t want to listen to them. I guess that someone would ignore them is their “trigger”.


Well, but there are conservative echo chambers as well as progressive ones, so it’s unlike “politically correct” in that respect. (What the pejorative inverse of “politically correct?” Is there one?)


Very much in agreement with this point, and I’ve made it myself in the past, usually with the sarcastic addendum that the people who most strongly subscribe to the concept of “The Free Market Of Ideas” often also hold ideologies that, shall we say, often fail to be competitive without the metaphorical equivalents of tariffs, mercantilism, protected markets, monopolies and especially subsidies.

And personally, I don’t want to ban people I disagree with from here (or construct an “echo chamber”). I derive a good chunk of my entertainment from this site by taking presented arguments and ripping them into tiny little pieces on a routine basis. Hard to do that in an “echo chamber”.


Insomuch as so-called “progressive echo chambers” are a problem at all it’s that we might not fully realize how many people have anti-progressive views until they manifest themselves in ways like the last Presidential election.

But that’s probably more of an argument to get out of our comfort zone and interact with the rest of the world more often rather than an argument against well-moderated forums.


In my experience there are more conservative echo chambers than progressive ones, but they function the same way. And personally I don’t believe there is any such thing as an inverse of politically correct, any more than there is such a thing as “reverse racism”. Racism is racism no matter what color or ethnicity you discriminate for or against, and political correctness is political correctness no matter your politics*.

I don’t care for echo chambers regardless of what the filter is. Others obviously feel differently, given how increasingly divided and polarized we are becoming.

But here’s how you can tell an “echo chamber” effect from other styles of forum moderation.

When posts are removed and users are banned because people don’t agree with them, or because appropriately mimetic memetic invocations have not been observed, it’s an echo chamber.

It’s not necessarily an echo chamber if posts are removed because a user has dragged in extraneous, disruptive issues (“de-railing”) or because someone is using argument styles that are not permissible on the site (ad hominem comes to mind immediately) or because someone is in some other way ignoring site guidelines that are intended to promote the conversations the site wishes to enable.

I’m involved with a number of interest groups where politics and religion simply are not allowed. Online, any post that mentions either is deleted; in meatspace, any such discussion meets immediately with social disapproval and peer sanctioning. That works remarkably well when the subjects of discussion are tightly and specifically focused, such as bladesmithing or electric vehicles, but very poorly in wider fields. You can’t discuss history without discussing religion and politics!

Edit: was it Bronofsky who said “politics is the systematic organization of hatreds?”

Edit2: No, it was Henry Adams.


My problem with “echo chambers” is that they can dehumanize your ideological opponent.

If you never talk to the person on with views that are different than yours (or even offensive to you), you can’t learn how a person can rationally possess those views (or, at least, being as rational as any human being is).

Going to the Community Guidelines:

Be Agreeable, Even When You Disagree You may wish to respond to something by disagreeing with it. That’s fine. But, remember to criticize ideas, not people.

Let me reiterate that.

Remember to criticize ideas, not people.

Last year, during the election, people (myself included) were making fun of Trump and Trump’s supporters. Mockery does not change minds. It’s ugly, it’s othering, it’s counterproductive, and we’re supposed to be better than that.

I want to know the story of why some people think that ideas which I consider unacceptable are acceptable. Unless I understand their current perspective, I can’t re-evaluate my own ideas from that perspective, and I certainly won’t be able to figure out what perspective they could be exposed to that might change their mind. And there is literally no way for me to get that story unless they tell it to me.

I have no problem getting rid of posts or people for bad behaviour. I used to live near a theatre (live, not movie) that was constructed near railroad tracks, and they had to build the theatre specifically to dampen the sound of trains passing by. Getting rid of the chaotic noise coming in from outside so that we might appreciate what’s going on on-stage is certainly acceptable. But I don’t think we should limit who is allowed to step foot in here unless it’s the only way to preserve that appreciation.


Even libertarians wouldn’t have laissez faire commenting by default. Libertarian-capitalists would probably decide at the boardroom level whether they wanted that, while libertarian-socialists would have a community vote on whether it was wanted (community could mean either the BBS or the staff at BoingBoing).

Basically the sound libertarian (left or right wing) arguement for dealing with people wanting laissez faire commenting is to tell them to go and make that community themselves. Trying to force a policy on other communities who have decided they don’t want it is coercion.

Even if you have laissez faire commenting, you still end up with an echo chamber, even if it is a highly toxic one. Try talking about LGBT or womens rights on one of the chans, for example.


No, but they’d certainly pretend to follow truly unfiltered “free speech” while making similar judgments and decisions about the appropriate nature of the comment threads.

And people relatively never do (it’s so rarely about actual free speech so much as anger over whatever “cool kids” in a community that they enjoy sparring with), with the exception of the more hateful chans/subreddits, which found that the splinter sites even filled with the horrors of the internet… also filter and ban and moderate.

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I’m going to disagree with you there.

Mainly because I think I’m the primary user of the term “echo chamber” as an accusation against this BBS.

People take great offense when it is used, but I do not recall seeing any good argument against the levying of that term.

Typical, they run along the lines of “sure, they exist, but most often the term is mis-used” (OP) or “most people who use the term are bullies!” (paraphrase of here) without any evidence to back up their poisoning of the well.

When people say that the site is not an echo chamber, and back it up by saying they take their prime form of entertainment by ripping arguments into little bits (paraphrase from here) - uh, that’s not friendly debate. That’s the EC’s immune-system in operation, enforcing a paradigm that is not welcoming.


People are concerned about an “ignore” feature that will allow someone to ignore their posts, hence the specific use of “echo chamber” that initiated this thread.

If someone wishes to use a mechanic to avoid a specific person’s posts, demanding that a mechanism not be included because the person’s opinions must be read seems more hostile than interested in dialogue or balance. Wishing to disallowing the option to opt out is the “bully” related behavior, not necessarily poisoning the well or calling them bullies on the whole.


You should probably define what you mean by censorship, because I understand it to mean the suppression of ideas, comments, etc. by an official representative of the system, in this case, the bbs. While an echo chamber is the users of that system mutually reinforcing their own views.
Censorship can lead to echo chambers but it is not necessary for it.

Echo chambers tend to resist outside opinions because they are so invested in the reinforced view, so unless the bbs admins begin suppressing dissenting viewpoints you can’t say that a community that resists outside views is practicing censorship. The Illuminati boards are just an extreme case of an echo chamber but they can happen with less wacky ideas too.


I think that there’s always going to be an element of bias in comments/commenters here, since the parent site has an obvious political slant (even if it isn’t entirely consistent).

Then flagging will most likely come from people with viewpoints that are similar to that, hence moderation probably will be too, and there’s your positive feedback loop.

I think that overall this community is fairly tolerant of dissenting views (insert life_of_brian_all_individuals.gif), as long as people are nice (risk of being patronizing towards the few regular commenters here that are to the right of the majority?). There are ‘Regulars’ here who definitely wouldn’t fit the recognized stereotype of BB commenter. And plenty of dissent amongst those who are in this ‘EC’.

Sometimes I think things get jumped on a little quickly, perhaps, but then I recognize that I have the privilege (do I get points for using that term here?) to ignore some stuff that others do not.

In the main, I trust in the luck dragon.


First, let me apologize for commenting without reading your link first. I hate it when other people do that, so therefore I hate it when I do that. :slight_smile:

From that link:

An echo chamber, also known as an ideological echo chamber or the more longwinded closed ideology echo chamber, is a group situation where information, ideas, and beliefs are uncritically bounced from insider to insider and amplified, while dissenting views are censored and/or ignored.

Have you visited the Trump threads? This is a pretty concise description.

Or, did you see what happened when someone proposed re-examining the idea that racism is bad? Taking a fresh look at racism would require a shared taxonomy, so terms and definitions must first be agreed upon, and the taxonomy of racism that many people outside bOINGbOING use separates racial supremacists (like the KKK) and racial separatists (like Randy Weaver) and social justice groups based on racial identity (none of which I shall mention for fear of post deletion), and does not necessarily consider all these things to be exactly the same in purpose or effect. But we cannot discuss such language here because it is a dissenting view; here, all racism is the same and this should not be questioned, just as in many pro-Israel forums there must be no distinction made between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism or posts will be ignored and/or deleted.

I’ve been castigated for not being afraid of Trump, which I find funny, but if I point out that it’s funny to me, I’ll only get more public opprobrium. And if I call people who are afraid of Clinton and/or Trump chickenhearted I’m sure I’ll also get PMs telling me that my views are evil and hurtful, and asking me never to again reply to, address, “like” or otherwise interact with the person sending the PM.

But I admit I ignore certain people entirely on this site. Once a person has said the same thing a hundred times I don’t need to read them saying it any more.


Hey! I can and do engage in friendly debate! But I will also call a racist a racist when they’re shown themselves to be a racist, and take apart their arguments in order to show those statements in all of their ugliness and lack of logic. That’s not an echo chamber, that’s refusing to tolerate intolerance. I’m not shutting them up, I’m making them have to defend their beliefs–if they can.


I think I’ve argued against this in many threads, and against many users. People come and say there is an echo chamber, then I scroll back up and put all the comments into a few simple buckets (support the supposed echo chamber position, against the supposed echo chamber position, unrelated to) and find that by count posts or users presenting an opinion, the echo chamber accusation just isn’t supported.

I’m going through my own post archive for instances of “echo chamber” and finding the following:

  • I first noticed this “echo chamber” used to discredit progressive discussion back in gamergate in discussions of Sarkeesian
  • In one case a person accused the BBS of being an “echo chamber” because they agreed with a particular post (that was not deleted, obviously) and no one else seemed to
  • A case where three people argued for X and five argued for Y and someone said the BBS was an echo chamber for X
  • A case where, over a 276 post discussion, six men arguing for X largely agreeing that the BBS was an echo chamber for not X because three women were arguing for not X
  • An instance where I used it jokingly to refer to the fact that BB is pretty pro-maker and pro-3D printing
  • Someone saying that it was interesting to them that even when Cory posted something outside our normal “echo chamber” we just parroted it back gleefully - that is, someone seeing evidence that we are not an echo chamber and interpreting it as evidence that we are
  • A case where I could find at least four different viewpoints on the issue which most people would think was a for/against issue that we were supposed an echo chamber for (including the back and forth “That’s a useless oversimplification.” to “I think it’s a useful oversimplification”)
  • One case where people said that “Targeted Individuals” retreat into echo chambers

I have done the work to count posts and re-read threads on numerous occasions. Based on my rereading of some of these posts and a few comments from the threads they were in I’d say:

  • BBS has diverse posters with diverse points of view (that is, it is not an echo chamber)
  • The accusation of “echo chamber” is leveled at least as often by the majority against the minority as the other way around (though obviously this is skewed by my tendency to only step in where this was the case)
  • “Echo chamber” is used as a “tu quoque” by alt-right/gamergate/redpill to validate their displays of aggression towards people they disagree with

[quote=“Medievalist, post:15, topic:92249”]
Have you visited the Trump threads? This is a pretty concise description.
[/quote]I don’t know what Trump thread you are possibly talking about outside the funk immediately following the election, because the current ones are pretty divided. Or do you mean that the majority being critical of Trump is the echo chamber part?

I mean it’s not like Clinton was immune to criticism, or that third parties don’t have distinct representation here above what the national average would be.

[quote=“Medievalist, post:15, topic:92249”]
Or, did you see what happened when someone proposed re-examining the idea that racism is bad?
[/quote]That thread’s timing was questionable IIRC.


I think I’ve drawn lots of distinctions between different kinds of racist views in plenty of threads. I’ve challenged the idea that Trump won because of racism. I’ve distinguished between “ballot box racism” and being indifferent to racism. I’ve drawn distinctions between supporting a racist candidate and being a racist person while maintaining that voting for a racist candidate is a racist act.

It would be hard for me to believe that someone would be shouted down or banned for noting that Steve Bannon’s agenda of creating a white nation in North America is different than the Nazi agenda of eugenic extermination. The trouble is that unless you are discussing that point for a clear reason, it’s going to read as excusing Bannon’s perspective.

If the BBS stops people from discussing the reality of how racism manifests and how it affects people, that would be a pretty huge indictment. If the BBS is an echo chamber for “racism is wrong” I think I’m okay with that. If someone wants to reexamine whether racism is wrong it would be very hard to get over skepticism about their motives. The civilized world is still an echo chamber for “racism is wrong” (the line of attack the racists are using is “oh, this isn’t racism,” because they know they can’t sell “I’m racist and proud” T-shirts to the general public).


When some of us fight the echo chamber effect and have some success (all due kudos to @Humbabella and the others @Daneel alluded to, I do not mean to downplay your efforts) that does not mean it doesn’t exist. I think the fact that we can easily point to such efforts shows that the site needed them.

Ignore away :slight_smile:

Again, if you read the Trump threads, you will see exactly what Wikipedia describes.

I started to put specific examples in here, but I’ve just deleted them all, because I realized we’d just devolve into this argument that the viewpoint being echoed is right, and therefore it’s not echoing. But that’s exactly how echo chambers work. It’s not oppressive to those who hold the echoed beliefs sincerely, to them it is merely intellectually ossifying.

It is there, and if you don’t see it, I don’t know what else I can do but point to it. :shrugs helplessly:

Those are not true Scotsmen? They don’t count? What about the ones before the election? The whole “Trump the Chump” thread? I pretty much stopped visiting those threads long ago, so maybe things have changed.

But I’m going to leave the subject of Trump because I have no interest in defending or even talking about him. I have sympathy for many of the voters who thought Trump was their best option, but I also think they were wrong, and that there were better candidates on every ballot.


I’m not fighting the echo chamber, I’m saying there isn’t one to begin with, and that half the time when I see people say a thread is an echo chamber, they are part of the majority (of commenters arguing that particular point) arguing that somehow the minority opinion is the only one allowed.

At the same time, I’m not trying to say that you (or @OtherMichael, above) are wrong. I think you are expressing something very real that you experience and witness on the BBS, but I don’t think it’s an echo chamber. Maybe arguing this point is kind of my bad alternative to saying, “What’s the deeper issue here?” Maybe the BBS has some common but not sufficient properties of echo chambers? Maybe this has to do with aggression in comments? Maybe I’m misunderstanding what “echo chamber” is really supposed to mean? (Could you have an echo chamber for view X where the majority of commenters express not-X?)