Jonathan Bright of the Oxford University Internet Institute presented a paper on how individuals in a radical ‘echo chamber’ react when exposed to opposing viewpoints.
Here’s the abstract
The theory of echo chambers, which suggests that online political discussions take place in conditions of ideological homogeneity, has recently gained popularity as an explanation for patterns of political polarization and radicalisation observed in many democratic countries. However, while micro level experimental work has shown evidence that individuals might tend to create echo chambers, recent macro level studies have cast doubt on whether they exist in practice. Indeed, research has demonstrated that individuals (especially those who are politically engaged) are frequently exposed to ‘cross cutting’ information and opinion online, with vitriolic exchanges with those holding opposing views a relatively common feature of digital political discussion.
In this article, we seek to explain these diverging results. Building on cognitive dissonance theory, and making use of observational trace data taken from an online radical right website, we explore how individuals in a radical ‘echo chamber’ react when exposed to opposing viewpoints. We show that this type of exposure, far from being detrimental to radical online discussions, is in fact a core feature and encourages people to stay engaged. We argue that the ability to repeat and practice counter-arguments to opposing (mainstream) viewpoints is the most important feature of radical echo chambers, and indeed probably what makes them so politically powerful. We conclude with reflections on policy implications for those seeking to promote a more ‘moderate’ political internet.