Don’t Make Twitter An Echo Chamber – A Follow Up Post

by Thomas MORADPOUR on December 28, 2010 · 6 comments

I’m quite happy that my Christmas week-end post ignited quite a debate in the comments section.

Here’s a link, and summary, in case you missed it: in Is Twitter Telling You Only What You Want To Hear, I argued that there was a significant conformity risk in using Twitter as a source of “socially curated news”. When you use your followers as “trusted sources” to filter the links and news you’ll read, you gain in relevance what you lose in diversity. Unless you have an out-of-the-ordinary curiosity, or a policy of following random tweeps, chances are that you follow mostly people like you, with similar interests and opinions. In short, your Twitter stream is like an Echo Chamber where you only hear things you like and agree with. I suggested the half-arsed-controversial solution of nurturing “contrarians” and “antagonists” in our streams… and of recommending them in priority in the #FF weekly ritual.

18 PEOPLE COMMENTED, AND QUITE A FEW DISAGREED!

Thanks all for a great debate in these pages – Michele, Taariq, Jeremy, Carol, Neil, Sumner, Jackie, Dan, Jill, Freddie, Ken, Tom and Michele, thanks for proving me both right and wrong.

I thought the input was rich enough to justify a follow up piece. OK, a short one.

THREE CAMPS EMERGED IN THE DISCUSSION.

  1. Those who (mostly) agreed with the post, and commented on how easy it was to let your stream become more uniform. Social Entropy at play. But a number of commenters countered that you can address the issue at an individual level, seeking diversity in your stream more actively (e.g. following outside your core area of interest/business), and keeping an eye on more traditional sources and media (assuming they expose you to more diverse stories).
  2. Two commenters (@DanPerezFilms and @Prosperitygal) took on a different tack, and argued that the Twitter-echo-chamber issue is less about sample selection, and more about lack of debate in 140 characters; call it Twitter Etiquette, fear of the social media gods or simple “live and let live”, it’s true that you see more thumbs up than thumbs down in the average tweet, response or RT. This is an even bigger bias, much harder to address.
  3. Finally, one smart cookie moved the debate to a whole different level, suggesting a use of Twitter that is less about opinions, debates and “contrarians”, and more about discovery, inspiration and “igniters” (thanks @LeFreddie, I hope I did not pervert your POV too much). The way Freddie uses Twitter is about finding thought-starters, and people who will ignite fresh thoughts. I must say, I agree.

There is no doubt in my mind that self-selected samples are biased, however careful you are to balance them – birds of a feather effect. And there is also no doubt in my mind that most people lack the desire and drive to engage in real idea confrontation – which is where value is created. And yes – these issues are not exclusive to Social Media; but they are easier to fall into on Social Media. I think “diversity” and “open debates” are the big issues social media will have to address before we can be happy about them displacing traditional news outlets. Big stuff questions for anthropologists?

THE ONLY THING IN OUR CONTROL – “WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT OUR OWN STREAM?”

I think this is worth spending a little bit of time to figure this out for yourself.

What will you do to create more diversity in your stream in 2011, to nurture the contrarians rather than shut them out, to seek out more “igniters”, to create more opportunities for discovery?

Related Posts:

  • http://www.terametric.com Taariq Lewis

    Well,I have two points to make on this excellent follow-up:

    1. I don’t think any one person can make a group diverse. I really think it’s whether the nature/culture of the group allows those people to express themselves in a way the group can take value and grow. These are really unstated and informal norms that bound the behavior of each organization of people. Unless one is a “change agent” sanctioned by a group, I don’t think one can “change the color of the stream” to much effect.

    2. I agree that SM is an echo-chamber because most of the folks here have a strong vested interest in the platform. It’s like a meeting of Republicans or Democrats at a convention. There’s social media channels in Twitter are created by folks who have a vested interest in Twitter engagement. I think this is symptom of the platform, but not a symptom of problematic human behavior. The best way to get a diversity of opinions is to send some pioneers out to bring new data in. They are trusted, experienced agents who can cross-pollinate. Otherwise, the heretics will be expunged.

    Sincerely,
    #DarthVadeHiss

  • http://socialmediaforsmartpeople.com/back-channel-conversations-social-media-manners-smmanners-chat/ Michele Price

    Chuckle I love how Taariq is great at combining class and effects. Such an interesting combination that sits well on my palate.

    Tom, Tom , Tom thou art a might distraction. Gotta love how you intentionally throw it out there in hope to stir the pot so we can get new ingredients to the stew. It is tastier that way for sure.

    Yes, Twitter can lend itself to an amalgam of components that when combined can be beneficial to the community.

    Whether folks originally come together because of an issue (like attracting like) or being part of those folks who like to be on the early edge of things matters not to me.

    When I first came on twitter I thought cool, I can talk to those who like what I like. Yes, that is very powerful. It can also be very dangerous I learned. I started seeing folks tweeting mean things to people who “didn’t think like they did”. I then realized WHOA has ego reared it’s ugly head.

    Talk about a sociology experiment!

    Then it became obvious to me that I would want to be intentional in who I followed and interacted with if I was to meet the goals I have for me- Michele in my life.

    Being a lifelong student always looking for growth personally and professionally I started seeking out those who held an opinion different from my own. I learned I do not have to agree with all they tweet for them to bring value to me or my community.

    There to me was the key to twitter bliss. Looking at the amalgam of what do people appreciate on twitter vs what they really need to know so they can grow and create life’s mini successes daily.

    So, while there may be a consensus of what is acceptable today by the masses, it is always aflux because there are those heretics who are willing to say “The Emperor Has No Clothes” when ego starts to drive the mass conversations.

    Question is which are you?

  • http://lefreddie.posterous.com lefreddie

    thanks Tom for the follow up and yes you haven’t perverted my POV on the contrary! Now the question you ask is a difficult one: how should we control our stream, and in fac tcan we? I have taken the view that I will follow anyone back as long as they are not freaks, dentists, gurus or prostitutes, or for that matter that they are not freak prostitutes guru dentists. And I get my dose of surprises from very unexpected sources. I attempted controling with lists but that became complicated.
    I also found that getting in conversations like #usguys helped dig into subjects.

    So in your view how do we get more control on ensuring contrarian igniters and people who make social media fun are into our stream?

  • Sandra Parrotto

    Personally, I won’t give “negative feedback” unless I’m sure that the relationship I have with the person is “in tact”. I view it as irresponsible of me to throw opinions around without having some sense of the writer’s reaction to my perspective. Think it makes a huge difference to understand the context that prompted the writing of the post.

    I see the stream as supporting all creative expression and wouldn’t want to do anything to hinder another person’s attempt to participate. That said, if someone is really looking for feedback, and they make it clear that this is so – then I’ll provide it. I don’t think my opinion flying around the stream is all that important but I do share it if the writer convinces me that they will find value in it.

    I loved all 3 comments, witty, interesting – and I read comments as much as I read posts, always fascinated by how others process. For this reason, I try to leave comments as part of my “payment” for the opportunity to have been shared with.

    Lastly, I suppose, there’s something to be said for whether someone is bringing purely intellectual material that calls for multiple viewpoints or sharing an experience from the heart. That “come from” has much to do with my response.

    Boy, Tom, you are just burning up the stream – enjoy your thoughts, interactions, connection!

  • http://www.redesign2.com/blog.html Paul Biedermann

    As Tom says so eloquently about Twitter streams and social media, the same can be said about today’s media in general. Seth Godin recently wrote about how you can spend your entire day consuming media while never encountering a thought you don’t agree with, don’t like or don’t want to see (http://bit.ly/ekGRU0). While there are many positive aspects to choice, and being able to pick and choose what we want to consume, there are also many negative ramifications (not to mention the lack of civil discourse in present-day government and inability to work together for the larger good).

    I think this is something we should be mindful of as we approach the new year. I hope that along with the variety that today’s media offers us, we can still keep open minds without always retreating to our comfort zones.

  • http://www.grit08.com Kenny Rose

    Tom,

    I know you have a vested interest in cultivating diverse perspectives and contrarian views virtue of your role. Numerous studies have concluded people do not like views that go against the norm but for senior executives, thought leaders or anybody with power or influence they know this is where they gain the most.

    The thing with Social Media is it is a real time experiment, a new frontier. Anybody who understands or has studied Business and Marketing beyond university level understands Twitter is really just a tool that extends the focus of Relationship Marketing to real time interaction on a one to many basis as well as being an invaluable intelligence and marketing tool.

    For example you tweet something and somebody immediately takes the angle and turns into a post, a new business model or way to add value to their existing model indeed some use it as a way to ingratiate themselves as an expert by repackaging your thoughts.
    Experienced entrepreneurs/Intrapreneurs or Change Agents understand they have to push against the grain to develop the innovation that adds value to a market, creates a new market, paradigm shift or social and economic change. The echo chamber will always be there unless you consciously search for divergent perspectives. But it’s a process of cultivating a mindset that is acutely receptive to divergent thinking and social and economic change.

    However fear creates a barrier and the need to be liked is an understandable emotional response that can only be addressed by confidence, strength, and self belief. The majority of people go with the flow because there are a complex set of intergenerational and historical factors at play that permeate all levels of our culture designed to maintain the status quo. Being divergent often leads to social and economic exclusion and most people just want to pay the bills because it’s about survival and maintaining or attaining a certain quality of life.

    Brandbuilders recent post talks about bottom up innovation and the cultural impact of street culture. Why is this important? The reason is when you have no money, job prospects, education, or food on your table you have to innovate. When you have no stake in society, being fearless is a natural component of being streetwise. You become divergent and contrarian because the contradictions are all around you. Intellectuals and people with power then repackage this innovation and mainstream its benefits in the process recreating and reinventing products, services and mainstream culture. There is an opportunity cost to divergence and most people and businesses do not want to pay the price.

Previous post:

Next post: