Welcome to our research group’s first blog entry!

As the junior research group “Digital Citizenship in Network Technologies” consisting of computer scientists, psychologists, and communication scholars at the University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany), we are interested in how opinion homogeneity forms online and what its social effects are. In this context, terms such as echo chambers and filter bubbles encounter increasing public interest manifesting itself in media coverage, policy making, and informal discussions. Although there is an increasingly growing body of research, widely attended claims do not always match scientific evidence. In order to avoid hasty conclusions, we look forward to addressing some of the most common “myths” on echo chambers and filter bubbles during the next weeks!

By echo chamber we understand a virtual space (such as one’s personal online social network) in which people are largely exposed to information and opinions that resemble and confirm their own attitudes, beliefs, and views on the world (see Sunstein, 2007). The lack of disconfirming (i.e., cross-cutting) information in a person’s environment is often assumed to yield detrimental outcomes, such as attitude polarization, political extremism, and social fragmentation, potentially leading to an erosion of democracy.

Similarly, filter bubbles refer to homogeneous virtual spaces by emphasizing technological properties regarding personalization in digital media (see Pariser, 2011). For example, Facebook and Twitter enable users to selectively follow and unfollow contents (such as media platforms, companies, or politicians) and other users in accordance with personal preferences. In turn, the Facebook and Twitter algorithms will “learn” by users’ selectivity and increasingly display content that matches user preferences. Eventually, users may find themselves in a filter bubble.

Put together, we understand echo chambers and filter bubbles as personal spaces on the Internet that are homogeneous in terms of user preferences (e.g., their political ideology). While echo chambers refer to such homogeneous spaces and their potential risks, filter bubbles specifically relate to the role of personalization settings and algorithmic filtering inherent in digital media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google.

Based on these understandings, in the following, we wish to turn to widespread public beliefs around echo chambers and filter bubbles and compare them with the scientific state of knowledge.

 

 

References

Pariser, E. (2011). The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You. London, UK: Penguin.

Sunstein, C. (2007). Republic.com 2.0. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Addressing Myths on Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles in Online Networks
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