Inside the echo chamber

While the situation depicted here in the cartoon is obviously exaggerated, it is based off of a real conversation I had with a proud Democrat in one of my classes Monday.

In my political science class, one of the issues that we discussed is whether use of the internet as a prime source of news and networking creates an “echo chamber” that stifles debate and allows people to become increasingly cut off from opposing views. I say that one of the biggest “echo chambers” we have is the college campus, and I’m subjected to it constantly.

While the entire conversation was congenial and lighthearted, this person seemed genuinely shocked at the views I shared. It wouldn’t be hard to believe that he had never met anyone holding conservative views on any of the subjects that we touched upon. When I told him I was a fan of Sarah Palin, I was ready for his eyes to bug out of his head. I was expecting annoyance, disgust or amusement from a liberal when confronted with conservative views, but the emotion I constantly picked up on was surprise. On the topic of gun control, for example: I don’t think he had ever even heard the argument that an armed citizenry deters criminals. Forget the merits of either arguments for or against gun control: I don’t think he had ever even heard it.

I am never shy to complain about how annoying it is being a conservative on a college campus, but I thank God that my views are challenged on a regular basis. It lets me strengthen my opinions by ensuring that they are constructed around fundamental principles. That way, if I’m ever asked why I say I support small government while also supporting a strong military and legislative controls over issues such as abortion, I can actually answer the opposition confidently without resorting to accusing them of things such as ignorance or racism. It really makes me feel like I’m walking erect.

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2 thoughts on “Inside the echo chamber

  1. Heh, as opposed to conservatives, who scream OMGSOCIALISMWTFBBQ at the first sign of non-conservative thought, right? 😉

    A college campus could in effect be an echo chamber, but it only makes a tangible impact if you surround yourself with naught but the local college culture (and/or have no significantly-developed philosophies before even arriving at college). The ‘echo chamber’ effect only works in a measurable way when people really isolate themselves– a college campus may have a specific range (bell-shaped curve) of normally-seen ideologies, but there will always be natural variation due to the fact that the college itself is not centered around having some particular ideology. There may be a lot more liberals than conservatives on IU’s campus (though it’s still in INDIANA, so let’s be realistic here), but I’d wager that you’ve got a “college republicans” organization, and maybe even an IU-YAL.

    More insidious echo chambers exist where people cluster together deliberately or quasi-deliberately based on an ideological bent– for instance, getting all/almost all your news/POVs from FOX News/Andrew Breitbart (for conservatives) or MSNBC/Daily Kos (for liberals).
    …and the daily worker for socialists, and Fred Phelps for religious extremists… you get the idea.

    • I consider IU to be a liberal “echo chamber” because students are not regularly exposed to conservative arguments or views (at least not from conservative sources!). This lets some (not all, but many) completely shut out opposing views, like the example that I discussed above. And like you said, I’d imagine it’s worse in campuses that aren’t located in the Midwest. It would be much more difficult for a conservative to shut himself off here in the same way.

      Ultimately, you’re as open to different ideas as you choose to be. My point is that the campus environment facilitates the “echo chamber” effect for the left much more easily than it does for the right.

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