The echo chamber: the dark-side of the internet

November 9, 2013
echo chamber ripples

Do you ever consider where you get your news? For me, I first scan Twitter, looking to see what stories people are linking to. Then I hit up my inbox for my daily dose of theSkimm and Quartz. Next up, I read New York Times, The Atlantic, a little Hacker News, then maybe the Wall Street Journal and, if I have time, I sneak a peek at the Washington Post. I can’t forget the many marketing news sites I follow or all the client-related news I consume. Phew. That’s a lot of news to pour through every day – all fairly varied opinions, but always some repetition.

What about you? Do you find the same news stories and ideas are covered to death? Maybe you’ve grown accustomed to the echo chamber. Or maybe you actually like it that way, because it continually confirms your own beliefs. And, hey, who wants to mess with the status quo, anyway?

The idea of the echo chamber, or the dark-side of the internet, is not a new one. Farhad Manjoo, a technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, argues in his book True Enough that digital technology is dividing society into distinct tribes that read, watch and listen to news that confirms their own beliefs. Eli Pariser, former executive director of and author of the The Filter Bubble, asserts that personalized algorithms like Facebook’s News Feed hurdle us face first into a narrowing compass of ideas and news. Cass Sunstein, author of, questions if we’re just echoing our friends’ ideas about the world, are we doomed to become more polarized as a society?

Yikes! So, how do we escape the echo chamber? Or work around it? It all comes down to what you do with the news you receive and how you interpret it. You might be exposed to certain range of stories, but you still decide on how to process the news. Plus, you have a choice to seek other resources and shake things up a bit.

Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay and philanthropist, recently spoke on NPR about his $250 million investment in a news operation. Omidyar is building a general-interest news site from the ground up. He wants to offer a passionate voice to the often overlooked, investigative stories and bring the news to a broader audience.

“Audiences today really want to know who is reporting the news to them. You know, trust in institutions is going down, and audiences really, they want to know the people behind the story. They want to know how it’s being reported to them. And so there’s much more appetite for connecting with people who have expertise, a real passion around the topics they cover, a real voice. They put themselves in the story, because of that expertise. They’re not afraid to share their opinion. And audiences actually want to connect to personalities.”

What really caught my attention was his method for delivering the news. He’d like to customize the news experience much like Netflix does for movies. By creating an algorithm to serve up a variety news stories, he seeks to introduce points of view you might not naturally seek mixed with points of views more aligned with your own. The idea is to get your gears turning. Maybe you leave a comment, or maybe you don’t. But Omidyar is banking on you slowly becoming more engaged with many different viewpoints.

With this global communication medium becoming more intrinsic in our lives, there is a lot of opportunity to connect with people around the world. We’re peeking through the window into other cultures and learning so much. I’ll be interested to see the impact Omidyar’s idea has on the echo chamber theory and how it influences the way we get our news in the future.

With the trust in institutions going down, how important is it for individuals from an institution to put themselves into stories? What are your thoughts on the idea of the echo chamber? What does your daily news menu look like?

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