Internet Influence

Digital Echo Chamber

Two colleagues at office desk looking at computer monitor [ Rechtehinweis: picture alliance/Westend61 ]
The echo chamber online reaffirms one's own views.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    When social media, our primary source of news and information, strongly reflects back our own opinions and beliefs, society stands at risk of polarization and extremism, argues WirtschaftWoche’s correspondent.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • A study of Italian and American Facebook users showed that when false information was planted in feeds, it was considered credible as long as it reinforced the individual’s own opinions.
    • Researchers estimate that Google could influence 25 percent of national elections around the world using distorted link rankings.
    • In 2012, virtual election stickers started popping up on Facebook feeds every time friends went to vote. As many as 340,000 users who had intended not to vote ended up casting ballots.
  • Audio

    Audio

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It was already back in 2004, long before the rise of social media, that Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein warned of echo chambers on the internet. The scholar said that in the digital environment, platforms and networks would resonate solely with users’ own preferences and persuasions.

A few years later, internet activist Eli Pariser claimed that the algorithms of the biggest IT companies even generate filter bubbles that keep the true variety of opinions on the internet – and in reality – away from individual screens.

It’s an effect that might very well mirror a human tendency. After all, in the real world we prefer to surround ourself with like-minded people.

But the more search engines assess hits for us in advance — and social media become our primary source of information — the more this echo effect grows into digital tunnel vision.

Meanwhile, research shows that opinions can be more strongly influenced on online platforms, and that undecided people are more easily convinced than ever. This makes the virtual intesification of mental isolation very dangerous – especially in times of political polarization and radical extremism.

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