On epistemic bubbles and echo chambers

Thoughtful essay by C Thi Nguyen for Aeon on the difference between epistemic bubbles and echo chambers, which can be seen as two very different things.

Luckily, though, epistemic bubbles are easily shattered. We can pop an epistemic bubble simply by exposing its members to the information and arguments that they’ve missed. But echo chambers are a far more pernicious and robust phenomenon.

Jamieson and Cappella’s book is the first empirical study into how echo chambers function. In their analysis, echo chambers work by systematically alienating their members from all outside epistemic sources. Their research centres on Rush Limbaugh, a wildly successful conservative firebrand in the United States, along with Fox News and related media. Limbaugh uses methods to actively transfigure whom his listeners trust. His constant attacks on the ‘mainstream media’ are attempts to discredit all other sources of knowledge. He systematically undermines the integrity of anybody who expresses any kind of contrary view. And outsiders are not simply mistaken – they are malicious, manipulative and actively working to destroy Limbaugh and his followers. The resulting worldview is one of deeply opposed force, an all-or-nothing war between good and evil. Anybody who isn’t a fellow Limbaugh follower is clearly opposed to the side of right, and therefore utterly untrustworthy.

They read – but do not accept – mainstream and liberal news sources. They hear, but dismiss, outside voices.

I must admit I haven’t distinguished clearly between epistemic bubbles and echo chambers until now, but this makes a lot of sense. It also reflects my own experience from meeting representatives of echo chambers. Recently, I have been a busy guest in the media in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has been noteworthy how many people that clearly read or watch my analyses but feel the need to discredit them for the sole reason that they were brought in “mainstream media”.

Not sure about Nguyen’s idea about a social reboot as a solution to echo chambers, though. Seems like a challenging process that only few people would be able to do. There must be something that will take a societal approach rather than an individual one.




2 responses

  1. Kevin Walsh (AKA "Sunshine" because I tend to be gloomy.) Avatar
    Kevin Walsh (AKA “Sunshine” because I tend to be gloomy.)

    It seems that the link “Thoughtful essay by C Thi Nguyen for Aeon” is no longer functional. It looks like an interesting article. I am subscribed to your youtube channel. I also watched your interview with Joe Broe. I think Joe might be optimistic concerning the effect of the mid-term elections and party change in the US congress. Neville Chamberlain, Robert Best, and Ezra Pound all have their successors. However, there is no point in borrowing trouble from tomorrow, as there is quite enough from right now.

    1. Anders Puck Nielsen Avatar

      Thanks for letting me know about the broken link. It should be fixed now.
      Im glad you follow me on YouTube. I am more active there than on this blog these days. And let’s hope Broe is right about the midterms.

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