Scrolling / Image: Pexels
Image: Pexels

The pitfalls of the echo chamber

In preparation for writing this article, in true student fashion, I procrastinated by scrolling on TikTok. An unfortunate habit, I know, however, the egregious amount of time I have spent on my phone recently proved helpful for better understanding just how easy it is to get trapped in an echo chamber online. TikTok locks so many people, myself included, into staying on the app by curating a selection of videos we agree with and does not challenge our beliefs to keep our attention.

Whilst they are of course very different perspectives, the problem is that they are too different

At the time of writing, the news of a general election recently broke. In just a few weeks, there will be the possibility of Britain seeing the end of the Conservative Party’s 14-year reign, which has unsurprisingly sent the internet into a frenzy, or at least it seems to have done judging by my algorithm. Regarding the election, most of what I have seen on the app centres on ‘tactical voting’, in which the primary goal is for voters to vote for Labour rather than for the party they wish to support, for the sake of a change in leadership. The content I have ended up watching regarding tactical voting has been divided neatly into two camps: one camp consists of people urging their viewers to tactically vote to ensure a Labour majority, whilst the other camp consists of people denouncing tactical voting.

Whilst they are of course very different perspectives, the problem is that they are too different. They are two points on either end of a scale, deriving from one belief, and regurgitating the same argument that I have already seen countless times. There must be more out there expanding both the breadth and depth of these arguments, and there must be more videos out there that are either based on research and reveal to more perspectives. However, I have yet to see them. What can be done about that?

For starters, I do not allow TikTok be my research; of course, I know not to let my opinion on how to vote be dictated by two narrow arguments I see online. Yet, the point of this platform is not to be particularly thought-provoking. Apart from some well-meaning content creators, most facets of the app, from the creators to those making videos, are trying to keep us on the app. We do not learn anything this way; instead, we either move onto to the next video, unrelated, and we forget about what we have just watched. Or we watch more of the same videos which do nothing to challenge either the information at hand or the opinions we are fed.

I can appreciate the TikTok algorithm for what it tries to do, which is to provide you with content you enjoy

I have my ways of trying to combat this lack of challenge, however, with the way the algorithm is designed, it blows up in my face. For many of the videos I watch, I frequent the comment section. This is partially because I am too nosy for my own good, although it is also insightful to hear other opinions, whether they agree or disagree with what is being said by providing examples and anecdotes. This can be a helpful tool for widening horizons, until I remember that TikTok will take this to be positive engagement, and subsequently try to give me more of the same content. I have found that trying to restrain myself from any hints of engagement – no liking, no commenting, and making sure not to watch more than a few seconds of the video – is also not particularly effective. Whatever I do currently, my algorithm likes to relentlessly remind me that I watched Bridgerton and have experienced a breakup this year. Admittedly more benign examples than the election, but irritating, nevertheless.

I can appreciate the TikTok algorithm for what it tries to do, which is to provide you with content you enjoy without the qualms of decision paralysis. With that though comes the responsibility of the individual to be mindful and critical of what they watch. I would question whether or not it is the responsibility of the people behind social media apps to utilise the algorithm to encourage users to branch out beyond their individual bubbles.


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