After both the 2015 general election and the EU referendum this year I was shocked. It wasn’t possible that the Tories could have won a majority? It wasn’t possible that Britain actually wanted to leave the European Union? Had they not seen my Facebook feed? Every (wo)man and his dog had crawled out the woodwork and written a status for the first time since 2009 about their undying love for Ed Miliband and the lovely-jubbly-ness of the EU, surely the results were wrong?
This is the effect of the echo chamber. An echo chamber describes a hollow enclosure used to produce reverberated sounds and historically concert halls and opera houses were built with them to amplify music. The phrase also describes your Facebook feed – an enclosed system where similar opinions to your own are echoed back to you. Chances are, your Facebook feed is full of like-minded young students who have had a similar upbringing to you and share your views of the world. Mine certainly is, I don’t often get to see the opinions of Paul and Janet, who are 64 years old and from Wakefield and struggle to make ends meet. For them it might have been obvious we were going to leave the EU, after all this had been their chance to make their voices heard for the first time in decades. Not to mention that Facebook desperately tried to feed you things it thinks you’ll like – it saw you liked that Jezza Corbz meme so it’ll show you another ten.
Social psychologist Festinger says that when we’re faced with something that goes against the way we already think, we do what we can to avoid that thing; we avoid ‘cognitive dissonance’, as he calls it. We like hearing what we already believe and we like to reinforce our own opinions – we like the warm, cozy feeling of being right. So we’re going to click the ’15 reasons why Britain should remain’ Buzzfeed article over the ‘Europe Stinks’ Daily Mail article, if that’s what our mates are sharing on FB and that’s what we already think. But the reality is that our worldview becomes distorted – what we think is the general consensus actually isn’t.