Study: There's just one echo chamber, and we're all in it
Research suggests that partisan echo chambers are rare in the US - but that a broader ideology engulfs everyone.
A central premise of liberal rationalism is that if we are exposed to the full range of diverse ideas out there, we’ll be able to compare and evaluate them with our experience and reason, and the good ones will tend to prevail. This is why freedom of speech is so central to liberal ideology: it’s what facilitates access to the marketplace of ideas. But this theory has also run into some obvious problems as a description of reality, where society seems stuck will all kinds of bad ideas that don’t seem to be going away.
Liberals tend to deal with this problem in two ways. The first way is to insist that we don’t really have freedom of speech, which is why we aren’t making the kind of political progress you would expect. The second approach — often coming from the same people — is to insist that the American public has segregated itself into “echo chambers”. If everyone were less tribal, and more open to criticism and alternative perspectives, then the marketplace of ideas would easily solve even our most vexing political problems. Unfortunately, however, Americans have isolated themselves in small little communities of like-minded people and refuse to listen to their political rivals, in particular those belonging to other political parties.
It’s easy to see why it has become a truism among folks who fetishize free speech and argumentation as avenues for political change that Americans have divided themselves into partisan echo chambers. But this also just isn’t true. In a paper for the Journal of Quantitative Description, authors Fletcher, Robertson, and Nielsen ask “How Many People Live in Politically Partisan Online News Echo Chambers in Different Countries?” The answer, it turns out, is “not too many”: