Are Echo Chambers Leading to the End of Open Debate?

  Since their creation Colleges and University have been locations of academic learning and intellectual discussion.  Its purpose was to promote thought on issues and be a location where rational debate could take place and free speech would could lead to a better, or at least more educated future.  The issue however is that this common feature that all universities have had for centuries is beginning to dissipate and may disappear all together.  This threat that looms of University and the entire world is the fear of opposing opinions and the sensitivity of new generations.  This issues has arose as the millennial generation began to reach into the social spotlight and started to change how social media and communication operated.  These millennials, who frequently are accused of being oversensitive and being coddled during their youth, have begun to warp society in a way that is very similar to their stereotypical upbringing, being shielded from opposing beliefs and reinforcing existing ones.  This transformation of society has led to the formation of constructs known as echo chambers, social barriers that reflect back a person own beliefs while preventing any outside opinions from reaching.  These echo chambers are not only a threat on campus but in the world at large because of their ability to pull members of the populous into groups of similar beliefs, which can be more comfortable for the person, but it also reinforces the fear associated with outsiders, and can eventually slow or even halt communication between groups.  Eventually this fear can lead to hate that will only cause a more xenophobic college for everyone.

To address the problem the cause must be understood, and the main cause of this issue are echo chambers.  Echo chambers are inherently dangerous to society because of their ability to bud off groups of people that create their own socially stagnant section of the population that contributes nothing to the rest of society.  The reason that echo chambers exist in the first place falls back on the question of what people find are the advantages of echo chambers and why, either knowingly or unknowingly they join them.  This question had led to the majority to point fingers at the millennials who they see as the people to blame.  The general stereotype of millennials, which for the most part is true, is that they were raised oversensitive and now fear anything they are comfortable.  The act of hiding controversial issues and giving out participation trophy to millennials in their youth give examples of why people believe they were coddled in their childhood and why echo chambers would appear to be the perfect solution to this generation as it was thrust out into a threatening world.  The explanation that echo chambers were formed for the reason of comforting oversensitive millennials is very probable and angers many.  Other groups point that the issue is not on the millennials themselves, but the time they live in.  Vincent F Hendricks, a professor at the university of Copenhagen states,”The polarisation mechanism is as old as we are – but the speed with which this information may spread has taken on proportions never seen before – and the social media may just turn prime vehicles for polarisation in the information age”(Hendricks).   As Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean at Stanford university states,” I think it’s fine if the purpose is to steel a person for an upsetting conversation, but not when it’s used to insulate a person from having to contend with upsetting material at all”(Lythcott-Haims).  Overall the main force behind the creation of echo chamber was the oversensitivity of millennials and their search for comfort in a threatening world.

Because many people from other generations don’t not see the supposed usefulness of echo chambers to be valid, they only see the cons of the effects, which regardless far outweigh the pros.  One of the most prominent issues and one mentioned earlier is the divide echo chambers can create between groups of people.  The importance of these issues is that people in an echo chambers will progressively become more and more close-minded.  As members of this group become more engrossed in their own beliefs they will become far less doubtful of their own views and disregard others and being wrong without any true rational.  David Katz of the True Health Initiative has a similar opinion,”The rising din of repetition can make any nonsense sound like unassailable truth, since nothing else can be heard above its reverberating roar”(Katz).  This issue becomes far worse however when echo chambers go from ignoring outside opinion to attacking and  suppressing them.  As stated by  Eugene  Volokh,”The Supreme Court’s decisions “protect the freedom to express” even “the thought that we hate” — including “discriminatory” viewpoints expressed by student groups at public universities”(Volokh).  This becomes increasingly dangerous as groups began launching attack against media outlets in hopes to prevent any contrasting opinions from gaining spotlight.  An example of this is given by Bryan Stascavage “A salient example is the reaction at Wesleyan to my article on Black Lives Matter. Instead of engaging in discussion, a small group targeted the student newspaper for publishing an unpopular opinion”(Stascavage).  Echo chambers are dangerous when they close off their members to the outside world, but they become far more dangerous when they begin to suppress the ideas of others.

Overall echo chambers are dangerous to society and how people communicate, especially on college campuses.  They exists as roadblocks in the flow of communication and the propagation of debate,  making it harder for debates on other issues to navigate around them.  In the end the issues does fall back on millennials and their outlook on the world and comfortable and coddling.  I fear that that if this majority outlook does not change soon, it could lead the end of open debate on college campuses and they eventual stagnation of society.

Works Cited

Hendricks, Vincent. “Is any immune to the social media echo chamber?”. The Conversation Science+Technology, The Conversation, 13 Aug 2014                               http://theconversation.com/is-anyone-immune-to-the-social-media-echo-chamber-30426

Katz, David. “Eating in Echo Chambers”. The Huffington Post Wellness, The Huffington Post 9 Jul,2016                                                              http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/eating-in-echo-chambers_b_7762826.html

Lythcott-Haims, Julie. “Millennials Will Soon Define ‘America,’ and That’s a Problem for Ideas”. New York Times Room for Debate, New York Times, 21 Dec, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/02/when-a-generation-becomes-less-tolerant-of-free-speech/millennials-will-soon-define-america-and-thats-a-problem-for-ideas

Stascavage, Bryan.”The Problem With Echo Chambers on Campus and Beyond”. New York Times Room for Debate, New York Times, 20 Mar, 2016 http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/02/when-a-generation-becomes-less-tolerant-of-free-speech/the-problem-with-echo-chambers-on-campus-and-beyond

Volokh, Eugene. “The Importance of Protecting Even the Thoughts We Hate. The New York Times Room for Debate, The New York Times, 2 May, 2016 http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/02/when-a-generation-becomes-less-tolerant-of-free-speech/the-importance-of-protecting-even-the-thoughts-we-hate

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