Last year's election cycle revealed what many of us already knew - echo chambers exist and it's easier to see that others live within them and difficult to acknowledge when we do.
What is an "echo chamber?"
The practical definition is an enclosed space where sound reverberates...or echoes.
In this aspect, however, we are not speaking of physical sites where sound reverberations can be heard, but social sites, mostly online, but not limited to that.
The Washington Post ran an article last year titled "Confirmed: Echo chambers exist on social media. So what do we do about them?"
In Christine Emba's report, she shares results from social scientists on the reality of such chambers.
The study focused on how Facebook users interacted with two narratives involving conspiracy theories and science. Users belonging to different communities tended not to interact and tended to be connected only with “like-minded” friends, creating closed, non-interacting communities centered around different narratives — what the researchers called “echo chambers.” Confirmation bias accounted for users’ decisions to share certain content, creating informational cascades within their communities.
Recently, one of my online friends who holds vastly different views politically, socially, and theologically, shared a story online that was opposite my view on many levels. We discussed the views cordially and I shared the reality that the views espoused were simply echoes of others. The concept of living in an echo chamber is a reality, and I am not immune either.
The Echo Chamber of Politics
Social scientists and political scientists have studied the surprising (to some) results of last year's US Presidential election. As results came in where states were colored either blue (Democrat) or red (Republican) to indicate Electoral College votes, our news showed the county-by-county vote totals of our state, Florida.
I would not be surprised to see other state breakdowns to show similar results. Here are Florida's results (screenshot from The Guardian)
For the most part, the blue counties are where large universities are located (FSU, UF, UCF, USF, UM, FIU, FAU, etc.) They are also the locations, other than Alachua County, of urban areas in our state.
This is no surprise in that many students in university settings are challenged intellectually regarding their belief systems and sense of fairness. It seems that over the decades, many of our universities have embraced a humanist worldview that leans left ideologically, politically, and theologically. This is not news.
However, I am not saying that individuals abandon their convictions and beliefs just because they enroll in college. In fact, no university populace is homogenous (well, except for Saturdays in the fall during football season) in their beliefs or support of ideologies. Yet, it is true that many students find themselves exposed to a worldview that sees things vastly different than the one experienced growing up under parental authority once at college.
It is at this level, the echo chamber develops.
And it is not just in the liberal, humanistic worldview world.
Just in case it's misunderstood, I'm not saying that the red candidate's voters were not in echo chambers. They were, too.
I am just pointing out how so many who leaned left were surprised at the election results primarily because they were trapped in an echo chamber. The same has been proven true for other sides over the years.
No one is immune.
The Christian Echo Chamber
As Christians, we must guard against the echo chamber as well.
But as we’re thinking about the entire question of this media ecology, there are two other issues that thinking Christians should keep in mind. This has to do with the echo chamber and what is known as confirmation bias. One of the great risks to all of us, whether of the left or the right, Christian or non-Christian, is that we will situate ourselves within a cocoon in which we hear no dissenting voices and no contrary arguments. This is probably, to be honest, more a problem for liberals than conservatives in terms of the print media because of the dominance of the liberals in major newspapers and editorial boards. But on television Fox News largely leveled the field, and now there is the risk that anyone of the left or the right or any other perspective can spend 24 hours a day listening to nothing but the echo of one’s own political positions and the bias of hearing confirmation of what one already believes.
This is where Christians need to understand the discipline of forcing ourselves to hear contrary arguments in order to understand evangelistically and apologetically the worldview of those who may not agree with us on so many issues. The political and moral—the worldview divide in America is now so deep that we can cocoon ourselves and hear almost no one who disagrees with us.
Some fear that even listening to dissenting political or ideological opinions flies too close to "the appearance of evil" but I hearken back to Paul's encounter at Mars Hill. To lovingly engage those far from God with the Gospel leads us out of the echo chamber (which for Christians can be filled with empty "Amens" on social issues apart from biblical foundation.)
If you check my Twitter account, you'll see that I follow many people. Many of those I follow view the world through a lens (a worldview) vastly different than the biblical one I do. They hold to beliefs of Scripture that I do not. They argue in favor of things that I believe are evil and wrong or at best, short-sighted. Yet, I "follow" them. To be clear, just because I follow you online, does not mean I agree with you.
Yet, to be clear, as a Christian I must spend the bulk of my time in God's Word when it comes to having a biblical worldview. Apart from the Gospel, I have no valid discourse with those who are pre-Christian.
Winning debates is not the goal.
Watching God win souls is.