The eco chamber syndrome: Controlling minds is not what democracy needs
Authoritarian party leaders and military or religious dictators do not wish to confront alternative ideas or opinions; so there is always an attempt to suppress the ‘other’ voices, both offline and online. These often lead them to put citizens into an eco-chamber where only praising of the power structure gets heard and echoed. Tolerance is the first victim of this, and the next is free speech, and then freedom in general.
In early childhood, one of the proverbs that used to be taught in schools, 'birds of the same feather flock together.’ I have spent half of my life to fully understand, or better said, comprehend the proverb’s true meaning. It is human nature to feel comfortable with the same mind, whether financial, social, or political backgrounds. The communication cushion and emotional dependencies are very crucial for any effective communication, where the danger of judging on partial understanding often gets ignored. Things become matters of concern when the ‘same feather’ individuals shut their thinking horizons to other opinions or beliefs. These ‘flocks’ eagerly want to be surrounded by people who never challenge each other’s thoughts. Particularly in this era of non-democratic social media systems, one is led to be fed and connected with users who think alike. In today's parlance, it can be a ‘filter bubble’, ‘homophily’, ‘groupthink’, or ‘tribal thinking'.
Another such term is ‘eco-chamber’. It has been seen that in flawed democratic societies, eco-chambers grow exponentially. Authoritarian party leaders and military or religious dictators do not wish to confront alternative ideas or opinions; so there is always an attempt to suppress the ‘other’ voices, both offline and online. These often lead them to put citizens into an eco-chamber where only praising of the power structure gets heard and echoed. Tolerance is the first victim of this, and the next is free speech, and then freedom in general.
In an eco-chamber society, hostility (sometimes physical) towards opposition or free thinkers is quite common. Things get more complicated when citizens act like ruling party workers not only in political or social matters but one encounters other's versions of the same story. State apparatus of fascist governments, beneficiaries deliberately manipulate this medieval mental state as per their requirements in order to solidify their power. Free will, and opinion get caged or threaten to be caged in an eco-chamber society.
Democracy needs diversity of voices
But is it not a doomed attempt to make society an eco-chamber? Yes, it is at least historically. Regimes in the past in any region that tried this failed, and people with alternate thoughts raised their voices sometimes with fear and sometimes in the camouflage of satires. No matter how little or few people do this, it is proven that these little sparks often create waves of dissident currents. In the long term, these rising waves have led to the collapse of authoritarian regimes.
Controlling minds is not what democracy needs. It needs a diversity of voices of people from all walks of life, especially those who challenge popular or majority beliefs and thoughts. To ensure that, mainstream media has a deep responsibility. If mass media distorts reality and deprives the masses of knowing the actual facts, skepticism and confusion grow which often leads people to mistrust the media. Overall, this breach of trust and technology gets entangled in a way that the truth vacuum is filled with misinformation and rumors.
The rise of social media has made things a lot hazier than they were a couple of decades earlier. Algorithm manipulation and search optimization maneuver people's thoughts like nothing before. So, before hearing and putting faith in any issue a rational person needs to first be skeptical, and in serious matters, conduct his/her own short research, and evaluate all aspects for and against an issue or subject; otherwise there are high risks of falling into the pitfall of the eco-chamber.
(The author is a TV journalist, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Views are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
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