We Self-Select for Echo Chambers That Are Echoier and Echoier

I'm sure we've all heard that the main problem with the internet is that it's just too easy to create an envrionment where you only ever see things you agree with and shut out things that conflict with your worldview. Wouldn't it be better, thinkers surmised, if we had an internet where people came into contact with different views, and the people who hold those different views? Through discussion, we can understand why people hold different opinions to us, though we might not agree, we can at least respect and empathise. This would make not only a better internet, but a better society.

I put forward the opposite notion: echo chambers are based, and possibly even group-pilled. In fact, I would say that they are the only long term community organisation that is viable.

To illustrate my point, I will talk briefly about the main subreddits for a television show, and the books from which it was adapted, that used to be on a few years ago. It was called Game of Thrones. You might have heard of it.

The fandom could be divided roughly into two camps, which I'm going to name Pro-Show and Anti-Show. The Pro-Showers believed that the show cut out much of the needless worldbuilding and pointless side characters to produce a show whose narrative was gripping and whose special effects were awesome to behold. The Anti-Showers believed that the show severely declined in quality after the showrunners ran of book material and had to write their own stuff, which they believed to be of poor quality. In addition, pro-showers preferred the show interpretation and view of many characters in the story, while the anti-showers preferred the book versions. Considering some of the major changes in characterisation and plot, these are effectively different canons, but like real world faiths only one can be accepted.

There were four main subreddits discussion took place on: asoiaf, freefolk, asoiafcirclejerk and gameofthrones. The first subreddit was Anti-Show, while the remainder for most of the show's run were Pro-Show. This alignment remained fairly consistent up until the release of the final season which produced a greater quantity of blue balls than the ending of Lost and freefolk became staunchly Anti-Show.

Expressing a divisory opinion (Let's say, whether you liked or hated Stannis or whether you thought the Battle of the Bastards was an amazing battle episode or illogical nonsense) on a subreddit who held the opposing divisory opinion would get you sent to the bottom of the page by the court of public opinion. Expressing popular opinions would get you elevated to the top, and many positive replies and arbitrary signifiers of worth would be bestowed upon you. If you liked a character or plot, but everyone else hated that character or plot, there was no point in trying to discuss that character or plot with others so you went to a place where your favourite would be more well recieved.

Doesn't that pattern seem familiar? I'm sure whatever subreddit(s) you're on, be it this one, your region's main political subreddit, a hobby forum, a subreddit centered around a media franchise, that there is a general consensus most people on the subreddit fall within, and people outside of that consensus are routinely shunted out of the conversation by negative reactions, whether they come from your arbitrary internet points being subtracted, people calling you a doodoo head, or hell even someone getting so upset they send you suicide support hotlines via PMs as if this will defeat you somehow.

Every major subreddit follows this pattern: politics is staunchly blue, the_donald was staunchly red (or at least anti-blue) until they got deleted off reddit. ukpolitics pretends to be neutral but houses a majority coalition of labour/libdems and anything remotely pro tory gets downvoted, and that place has not one but two circlejerks: badukpolitics and badunitedkingdom, whose express purposes are to cherry-pick and grumble that ukpolitics is not more left/right wing respectively. Even here, I do not think there is a massively wide and varied window of opinion, and we too have our own spinoff subreddits to the left and right.

I had thought at one point that certain status markers (upvotes/downvotes, retweets, likes, shares, thumbs up, etc) caused this behaviour, and by eliminating them we could obtain a sense of normality. I no longer think this. Anyone who used a php forum at one point is no doubt familiar with threads that go on for ages and then you actually read them and it turns out its just two dudes having a dumb fight.. Even on IRC, people were angry and were fully prepared to tell you that you were wrong and that you should kill yourself for the net benefit of humanity.

Ultimately, we self select for echo chambers that are echoier and echoier until the only sound is produced is from those so indistinguishable ourselves as to be our effective clones. Is such a bad thing? Belonging brings happiness. Why wouldn't we want to belong? Our brains accomodate a total of 150 social relationships and treat opposing thoughts as existiential threats. Isn't it better to accept your nature, rather than fight it?