by Teresa Yanaros, September 11, 2020
It's not news to anyone that the internet has a life of its own and is not a perfect encapsulation of what is actually going on in the REAL world.
Questions to Ponder:
Just how affected are we by messages received subliminally through media outlets?
Can we escape the constant bombardment of certain messaging or at least its effects upon our psyche?
How can we recognize and interface with echo chambers online and retain our sovereignty in the process?
World (Wide Web) of Opportunity
The internet provides insurmountable opportunities for people with a vast array of life experiences and perspectives to connect and share ideas. We've watched the unfolding of a user-generated digital environment where individuals from all over the world can hit record on a camera and start video channels that look just like what we see on television. Anyone can register a domain name and start a blog site to publish original content. With the rise of the ability for media to go viral instantaneously, social media has changed the world.
Underlying Inherent Programming
This freedom we enjoy and experience through the advancement of technology calls for:
a deep level of responsibility in choosing the types of information with which we interface
a deep level of metacognition regarding the interpretation of the content we ingest
Media is like food for our minds. We are constantly receiving data into our minds whether we are conscious of it or not.
Communication experts have been researching this for a long time.
Cultivation theory, a theory of mass communication explored by academics since the 1960s, investigates the relationship between television exposure and beliefs, attitudes, and worldviews. After performing academic studies, researchers found that over extended time periods of exposure to certain television content, the consumer would grow to hold the conceptions of reality aligned with the values of the medium.
Implications of Social Media Popularity
It's clear. There is a historical basis informing the idea that media has inherent programming effects with exposure to content over time. We must confront the fact that people's beliefs are being deeply affected by media messages every single day.
YouTube, an online video-sharing platform, has amassed over 1 billion users and is ranked the most popular platform for sharing video content on the internet. Recent statistics presented by Omnicore Agency (2020) showed that over 1 billion hours of video content is consumed by users on YouTube every single day.
Because the age of the smartphone brought with it the age of instantaneous information, we need to talk about how programming manifests online.
Enter: The Echo Chamber
Cambridge Dictionary defines "echo chamber" as:
echo chamber: a situation in which people only hear opinions of one type, or opinions that are similar to their own.
Echo chambers are actually perpetuated on various social media platforms because our online behavior informs computer algorithms. Think about it this way. If you are on YouTube watching videos about cooking, you might notice that the next video suggested to you after watching the video is another video about cooking. This is because the YouTube algorithm wants to keep you on its platform so it will suggest videos to you that you might enjoy. If you are consistently watching, engaging with, and sharing the same kinds of videos across your social media platforms, this will reinforce the types of videos being suggested to you while spending time on the platform.
Echo chambers extend into all facets of media. On one hand, focused marketing or algorithmically-selected content makes things convenient for you. Algorithms will present content to you that will likely be useful and enjoyable. On the other hand, you will be drawn away from media that has nothing to do with your interests. This creates a bubble around you, and if you aren't careful, you can assume that the material you are coming in contact with is the only media that exists.
The cooking example is benign, of course. But not all media is benign. Echo chambers will have a different effect on the consumer depending on the type of content and length of exposure.
Next: People Reinforce Algorithmic Behavior
Have you ever witnessed a group of people online, maybe within a forum community or group on social media that share the same ideas over and over, seemingly caught in a loop of information? I'm sure you already have a handful of examples that come to mind as I mention this.
Let's talk about the organizational structure of this concept. In general, a person or group of people have a goal, cause, or motivation in launching an online presence. Under this mission, a movement has begun. Information is amalgamated within the topic and pushed out consistently over time to push the agenda, present it to people, and invite people to get involved themselves. This happens with all kinds of movements, whether political, religious or based on some ideology. Dissenting opinions, data, and information are discarded, ignored, and even attacked.
The 'Island of Thought'
I call these internet communities, "Islands of Thought." You can enter into a completely different universe online and see an entire group of people who believe one thing. They will usually even have their own lexicon or language that they use among themselves that you'll have to learn if you want to be a part of the group. They will have their own thought leaders, influencers, drama, and developing story. People jump on board to add to the user-generated media and then everyone inside the group shares it around to further reinforce the community's perspectives.
Islands of Thought are everywhere online! You can find them amongst gamers, cult followings for certain movie franchises, and all the way over to environmental causes and extremist political circles. These become reinforced over time and can grow into hundreds of thousands and even millions of people from across the world.
For my video series about the echo chamber I got caught up in
and then eventually recognized as such, check out my video:
We are constantly inundated with information online. And it's imperative to realize that these online subcultures are pervasive and can be intensely appealing. For younger online users, especially teenagers looking for a place where they belong, or even adults who have recently had some kind of destabilization of worldview, a risk is present. Islands of Thought can easily entice people into joining causes or communities that do not serve their best interests. Many of these groups appeal to emotion and can have people jumping on board to agree with a cause before they've applied an in-depth analysis of the data as a whole. Before you know it, they are looped into an online community hook line and sinker. Usually, at this point, they've connected deeply on a personal level with people inside the movement. This makes them less likely to apply intense scrutiny against the claims the people in the community make. People can be manipulated into wasting time, energy, money, and resources to push agendas that don't serve them at best and destroy them at worst.
When it comes down to it, humans have an intrinsic desire to belong and will do what they can to protect themselves against isolation and rejection. We desire community and to be around others who generally agree with us and make us feel as though we belong. Overall, it takes time to develop educated opinions after applying due diligence in research. Critical thinking, time, maturity, and experience all come into play while on the path of seeking the truth. Echo chambers or Islands of Thought aren't bad, it's just that we need to be aware that they exist, and understand how they work so we don't get caught up in myopic agendas.
So how can we navigate the complex territory of the internet, find a sense of community, and retain our sovereignty in the process?
Perspectives About Echo Chambers Perpetuated Online
I asked the Divine Frequency community to share their thoughts about online echo chambers and found an overall consensus: a call to balance. We need to appreciate the access to online communities while also applying scrutiny into all corners of the internet.
Arielle Wolfe-Fritz, the content creator of Labyrinth Perspective and a prominently featured contributor of Divine Frequency, spoke directly to the crux of the issue: critical thinking.
For casual viewing of t.v. shows and network series, the algorithm is a fine tool to provide the viewers with shows that may pique the interest of each individual person, but as we look deeper, the algorithm becomes a menace to free thinking and true research. The act of opening a book to educate yourself on any given topic from reliable sources is becoming more and more a thing of the past. Most people in this day and age, take what they read or see on social media or any other digital platform to be true and rarely take any information in with a grain of salt or make moves to further read into a topic by looking into more academic resources. It is difficult to discourage this behavior but we can lead by example by backing up our own claims with solid and highly accepted factual evidence and encourage people to do the same.
One thing I really liked about Arielle's response is that she encouraged setting an example for other content creators by essentially showing your work: front-loading your viewers with all of your research and findings. In a cultural climate where many content creators do not have backgrounds in journalism, we see a lack of training on how to conduct and present research. It's paramount to provide citations on where you are getting your information from so people can make up their own minds. It's also crucial to substantiate the claims you are making by trying to find the best sources possible. Ultimately, it comes down to presenting data and encouraging critical thinking from your audience.
John Auclair, a seasoned Divine Frequency community member, chimed in and presented a balanced approach to the topic. He called the echo chamber:
A double-edged sword. Great places to find resources to share, yet it's easy to be trapped into circular loops of engineered distractions.
- John Auclair
John highlighted the duality inherent within the concept of online media. Freedom, yes, but freedom with responsibility. Some types of information draw people into distractions and lead them captive into holding patterns instead of encouraging liberty and health. This might seem melodramatic but there is a very real danger online of getting trapped within informational systems. We discuss online traps on Divine Frequency because it's so important to realize that some information is just down-right degenerative! Learning is a process. Our community, which I established back in 2016, seeks to continually suss out what is useful and what is destructive.
For more about online traps check out my videos:
Eddie Dunkenson, Divine Frequency community member and conversation starter, cut to the core of the issue by speaking into the idea of persuasion.
Persuasion through media is simply programming the mind.
- Eddie Dunkenson
Eddie brought up a crucial facet of this conversation: the consideration that people in the media are actually attempting to persuade. This brought up the issue of agendas. If we consistently look for the context of and motivation behind media messages, we activate our critical thinking centers instead of passively accepting subliminal messages.
Teal Day, a Divine Frequency contributor and media content creator, joined the conversation to break down the deeper design of echo chambers.
It's a slippery slope. On one hand, it can be helpful, even encouraging, to have information that resonates with you on tap and flowing. This can inspire a deeper quest into the (any/whatever) subject/theme at hand. You will be introduced to new shows, documentaries, practitioners, teachers, public voices, evidence... to support your hypothesis (or thought process). This is an excellent tool, when used wisely.
On the other hand, having a consistent flow of "same thinking" ideals and minds, it is far too easy to mistake information presented as actual research. One can slip into the mindset of, "these people I am listening to have spent years of digging into this topic and are far more educated/knowledgeable than I am about the information. I trust them"... and forget about the scientific process of research (and experimentation) all together. Forfeiting their own thought process to the algorithms.
An example of using the tools wisely would be to keep a broad range of interests flowing. Always looking up information from every angle. Then you will have many rabbit holes to slide into. Keeping an open mind is a lost art that I would love to see make a comeback!
- Teal Day
I am very curious to see how our knowledge increases on this topic over the next decade as the influence of social media continues to develop. My current academic study is assessing media effects within online communities, extending literature in the areas of linguistic and behavioral analysis. These online rabbit holes run deep! The discovery of this phenomenon sparked an intense desire in me to understand how social media has completely shifted the nature of how we build and sustain communities online.
The reinforcement of confirmation bias is not only alive and active online, but new technologies and platforms actually fortify the walls of echo chambers. Teaching critical thinking and providing tools for proper communication and research is crucially important in shaping a society that upholds honorable and lawful values, for the betterment of not just us as Americans, but for all of humanity.
We are constantly exposed to media online, and some of these messages are quite destructive. From hook-up culture drilled into the minds of the youth unabashedly through music videos and television, to the demonization of the family unit through the glorification of power dynamics, we are in desperate need of some light to be poured into the darkness. Together, we can stand against these forms of media that seek to destroy us and tear our bonds apart.
By instilling in our youth a duty to critical thinking and a sense of kindness toward others, we can create an environment where education and research are celebrated. Amidst a cultural climate where emotionality and fallacious arguments run rampant, it's time to firmly establish critical analysis and open dialogue as the standard modus operandi of communication once and for all.
Stay well. Stay vigilant. Stay strong.
All around us are pieces of the gigantic cosmic puzzle. Let's attune to its Frequency.
About The Author
Teresa Yanaros, a degreed journalist with a passion for uncovering the truth, has dedicated her life to investigating images and messages received through media outlets. From a young age, she has researched and presented news media though print and began Divine Frequency in 2016 to expand her reach through multi-media.
After writing a book investigating the phenomenon of modern American online spiritualism, she traveled across America, giving speeches and practical workshops on how to analyze and synthesize information. From archetypal studies to advanced truth-seeking, Teresa has presented research in areas of American pop culture, supernatural and paranormal studies, theology, and anthropology of online sub-cultures, including UFOlogy and conspiracist communities.
Because of Teresa's experience with seeing just how deep the rabbit holes of online culture go, she is devoted to understanding the media effects of online subcultures upon their communities.
 Shanahan, J. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. SAGE Publications, Inc.
 Delli, K., Livas, C., Vissink, A., & Spijkervet, F. (2015). Is YouTube useful as a source of information for Sjögren's syndrome? Oral Diseases, 22(3), 196-201. https://doi.org/10.1111/odi.12404
 Aslam, S. (2020, February 10). YouTube by the Numbers: Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts. Omnicore Agency. https://www.omnicoreagency.com/youtube-statistics/