Brainstorm how to end online tribalism/echo chambers

Everyone here likely knows that certain apps consume our every habit to build online profiles about our online and/or real life identity, our political views, social graphs, likes and dislikes, what we are most or most unlikely to engage with, etc. These types of online environments collect all of this data to feed us more of the same content, to increase engagement on that platform and increase exposure to advertisers, whom our data is packaged and sold to as to target products, events, so on to our profile specifically.

Perhaps an unintended consequence is reinforcing an already existing problem on the internet today, echo chambers and tribalism. As people remove themselves from the diversity of thoughts and opinions in their local environments (if they are lucky enough to live somewhere with culture), dealing with opposing peoples views face to face etc they instead find comfort in online communities where others may share similar radical views and agree with almost everything they say. This seems to embolden certain views and behaviors that would normally not be given much thought or expressed. It seems online conspiracy theories and radical ideas about some opposing group is far more exciting than real life in a content driven dopamine addicted society. So much to the point it seems the disfunction is spilling over into real life at this point. The division is real and it may reach dangerous levels that cause generational distrust in any form of institution, source of truth, lead to domestic terrorism and potentially even worse.

I’m sure there are much more succinct ways of describing this problem, the main sources, and most importantly, possible solutions. That’s what I’m hoping to discuss and collect here.

4 Likes

The counterpoint to that, I will suggest while I’m in a grumpy mood about the state of the world today, is that people perhaps do not change; want to change; or truely can change, their perception of the world. People seem to too often get stuck in a rut and what they learn compounds that.

I’d like to think people are open minded about learning more of what they do not know - about how to think differently but I’m not encouraged by how lazy most people are.

The only route to change I wonder is challenging people, making visible that which is not tailored for them and fits just oh so right, to what they already “know”.

Distinct from that, is that the world we witness now is a bit warped for the lack of negative feedback; so, the real consequences of actions are hidden. Humans are dull enough when consequences are normally delayed, let alone hidden - we don’t make the association in a way that is robust enough to meet the problems we create. That relates often to compound interest, which Einstein noted was mankind’s biggest problem… the things which creep up on us. People being lazy about those little differences that matter, matters over time.

So, politics is lazy and becomes bipolar - it caters to its base support too often and not for everyone, which tends to a black and white in debate and perception of issues.

People have to be motivated to engage that which takes a bit of effort. Either they are challenged or they are looking for a solution to a problem.

The cynical viewpoint also, is that those echo chambers serve a purpose for those who are trying to create echo chambers and craft the world to their own dull design.

Disclaimer: It’s 4:30am and I can’t sleep!

but you asked for a solution… so, I will suggest truth … make truth visible. That is the best catalyst for challenging what is wrong in the world and for encouraging people to think.

6 Likes

This post is a WIKI

So how does this all function? Is there a flow to this? I’ve heard that radicals actually use sales funnels to draw in potential. This nefarious behavior must be quite common and understood to these companies. So does…

Data collection leads to online profile.
Online profile leads to targeting and manipulation.

Potential causes of data collection

  • ad based models (“free” services that need to collect user data to sell to advertisers
  • to increase user engagement
  • to give better or more specific results
  • users unaware of the exchange of their data for free access

Potential solutions to avoid collecting data

  • Moving away from ad based models

Potential causes for tribalism

  • dichotomy division used by corporate news (fox, cnn, etc) to appeal to a demographic
  • no real life accountability in online responses
  • State actors trying to degrade other countries democracy etc
  • Specific search results (not providing opposing content to challenge bias)

Potential solutions for tribalism

  • Federated news service?
  • Perpetual web tools?

Potential causes for echo chambers

  • to feel validated
  • to feel accepted
  • to feel valued
  • dopamine addiction to likes etc
  • too much filtering?
  • targeted suggestions?

Potential solutions to fight online echo chambers

  • Non algo platforms
  • sequential ordering of posts rather than targeted filtering

It’s a lot to think about and maybe too much for me to wrap my brain around. I’d appreciate others help.
*

Amazingly simple but incredibly hard. It seems today truth is what you want to believe with the people who will believe it with you. Because of the polarization some ideas can be next to insane yet believed deeply as it is more exciting for those people to see their idea of justice against those who don’t agree, for the world to better fit their tiny twisted vision.

I do agree truth is most important though. I also think something related and almost equally important is diversity. Outside of comfort is change, chaos, but really nothing but misunderstanding and ignorance. Diversity opens up peoples eyes to how small and narrow they are and forces expansion and understanding. In the real world that is and obviously not entirely or totally but in general. Like you said lazy nature and the internet helps enable that laziness.

People perhaps want an environment that is filled with people like themselves.
I was going to note that moderation is too often bad and compounding the problem… see reddit for too much of that, with overzealous mods their forcing the conversation…
The best moderation is the least, there only to defend the social contract that people are not imposing on others… and perhaps some moderation is needed - or tools that enable the user but then you go down a liability that is tools that are as dumb as the worst moderators.

So, while there is a perception of anonymous postings being a problem, it’s perhaps over-stated… the young will challenge the boundaries and nothing wrong with that, especially in a world dumbed down by control freakery and limitations.

The answer to this perhaps is variety… many forums for many interests… beyond the bland that reddit has becomes and to a place where there is true variety. If we consider the limited number of social media platforms… people go there because there are many people there… and chances of finding others we like are increased?..

So, problem then is to provide tools that help people resolve where “their” forums is - where they are looking for… that it not just somewhere that will get spammed by anonymous posting off topic.

My instinct is make it easy, make it simple… people will engage with others… perhaps in part the solution is private forums… invite only… which I note is not feeding into you are assumption that we want to end echo chambers!!

1 Like

Truth is not opinion (about truth).

Diversity is important and provides colour.

Both I would suggest are seductive, over time.

Key is that they are visible and not stifled, which is too much the problem atm with powerful interests “knowing” what is best and “knowing” what you want.

1 Like

I guess we do.

But at the same time we get anxious when that turns into something other people watch us for. You know the way others think you are suspicious if you dare to familiarize yourself with the ideas of opposing camp - read the “wrong” books etc. It would be cool, if it would somehow become cool to know your “enemy” more intimately than just caricaturish outline.

Nonsense… those dull minds who wish to control others, would like everyone to behave in such a dull manner.

The point of privacy; security; and freedom, is that you do not have to pander to other people’s stupidity and be liable to that. Those with no mandate will take every advantage to exploit what is available but if users are empowered, they will have better option to control what is available and identifiable…

So, private forums will allow a freedom of thought that will allow us to counter the dull thud of others stupidity far more effectively. Perhaps then we will progress beyond a fear of what others might do. The actions taken which follow that fallacy of “necessity” and anticipating the worst of others, is at the root of what ails us. Yes, it may irritate control freakery that there is less visible of what others are doing but that is not necessarily a bad outcome.

Telegram I wonder is just one example of how there is appetite for private groups. I’ve yet to find a route to navigating it but there are apparently “400,000,000 monthly users”.

Following on from Can you talk more about this current business model (backed by the addictive filtering) is a problem…

A minor nitpick here but they collect it not to feed us more of the same content but to know how to direct us onto a the path that is easiest for them to generate revenue from. This need-to-direct-us into the easiest path often does (as you say) lead to more of the same content. But the same content is the side effect, not the goal. The goal is to get users onto the ‘rich veins’ of content (rich for the provider, not the consumer). If someone starts far from any of the easy paths then it’s not about giving that person more of the same but giving them the content that will most efficiently put them on the easy path.

It’s a subtle distinction but I feel the true goal here is important to keep in mind. The goal is not to create echo chambers or similar content, it’s to have maximum efficiency of lock-in and attention, and that happens within just a few thick branches of the content tree, so users end being pushed there by algorithms because that’s what the algorithm is tuned for. Tribalism is a side effect.

What you are calling ‘tribalism’ I would call ‘efficient lock-in of attention’ which just happens to give rise to a few very strong and common modes of consumption. Mass lock in of attention at scale with efficiency happens to create tribes. But the tribes are just a side effect. If it had been more efficient to spread people over the whole spectrum then we’d see that happening and we’d be bemoaning ‘decision failure due to extreme fractionalisation of opinions’ or something like that.

I’m being really pedantic, but I think these platforms maybe don’t directly aim to increase exposure of consumers to advertisers, they mostly want to maximise advertiser revenue, and the best way to do that is via increased exposure of consumers to advertisers. The goal is advertiser-oriented, not consumer-oriented. Consumers being exposed to ads is a side effect of the true goal which is to earn advertiser money.

Put it this way - if they could double their revenue by halving the number of ads shown to consumers then they would. The platforms don’t care how many ads consumers see. They just care that however many it happens to be is maximally profitable. And the correlation between ‘consumer time exposed to ads’ and ‘income’ is obviously very tight, but do not mix this correlation with the true goal.

My point is, consumers are not the consideration. Platforms do not try to maximise consumer exposure to ads, they try to maximise their profit from ads, which usually comes from higher exposure.

The distinctions are important because we can’t really unravel the problem without being clear what it is, what are side effects, where the wiggle room to negotiate is, where efficiency and inefficiency really lives, and where the power grows and dies.

I would reframe this: “As people are removed by the platform from the diversity of thoughts and opinions…”

It’s the platforms doing it, not the people.

The platform chooses what people see specifically to make them behave in a way that seems like their own behavior but it is not. That behavior is manipulated by the platform and belongs to the platform. It’s gradual. The user is under the influence. We can’t blame the users in this.

As The Social Dilemma says “It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception that is the product.”

There’s a distinction made in ‘Finite and Infinite Games’ by James Carse between ‘culture’ and ‘society’. Culture is the infinite game version and society is the finite game version of the same phenomenon. Culture progresses, expands, pushes the limits, embraces, welcomes, shares. Society is hierarchical, win/lose, team based, rules based, comparison based.

So I agree with the use of ‘lucky enough to live somewhere with culture’, but I feel that social media / tribalism / echo chambers is a purely societal phenomenon and culture is not really so significant. Maybe I’m reaching too far on this, but I do recommend the book because it frames these two people-group-think-things of ‘culture’ and ‘society’ in a pretty interesting way.

The phrase ‘live somewhere’ reminds me a lot of the problems of gerrymandering. I think we are seeing the same thing happen here but instead of where you live the lines are drawn around what you care about.

Solutions for Consumers

One way to frame this is that these people are becoming part of a cult and they will need to be deprogrammed. We must do this with compassion. No point me writing more about deprogramming, just look online there’s plenty of stuff.

Another way to frame this is these people are addicted, like drug addicts, and they need rehabilitation. Again, this is a compassionate activity, not correcting a wrong, not removing bad behavior, not judging or criticizing. So much online about addiction rehab I won’t write more.

Another way to frame this is a mental health issue. These people have suffered past mental trauma (we all have) and social media tribalism is the symptom of this trauma. The way to treat mental health is through counselling, again a compassionate activity.

Another way to frame this is biological legacy and to that I say we’re screwed. Haha no I’m kidding but I don’t know the answer to this one, biology is outside my normal thinking.

Solutions for Businesses

From The Social Dilemma “I don’t think these guys set out to be evil. It’s just the business model that has a problem. … What I see is a bunch of [business] people who are trapped by a business model, an economic incentive, and shareholder pressure that makes it almost impossible to do something else.”

So number one, do not own shares in these companies. Do not make profit from attention slave drivers. How many degrees of separation is acceptable? I can’t answer that for you. You must decide.

We need to decide if the externalities of consumers being in a network like youtube or facebook or twitter are ok, or whether those externalities (positive and negative) should start to be internalised.

We need to decide if regulation is a good approach and how that might work.

My feeling on how to achieve this, be it business-initiated or government-mandated (disclaimer this is totally opinion, not based on any research or data or anything like that, might not end up in a positive reality!)

  • businesses that show any information which can be ordered chronologically must do the chronological ordering by default, and if they want alternative orderings they must offer them only as non-default alternatives. If a company removes a special ordering algorithm the people who have selected that ordering must be returned to the default chronological order so they can choose their new alternative. There are of course loopholes and exceptions, but the intention here is: do not mess with the order of posts to manipulate people without their consent.

  • all advertising must be explicit. I’m thinking 3px red #F00 border around it with text above saying “This is an ad”. If an article is paid for by the subject of the article it’s an ad and that fact must be explicit. There will be loopholes and exceptions but the intention is people must know when they are being advertised to. I’m aiming at low hanging fruit here like deceptive ‘Download’ buttons on sourceforge.

  • enforce hard delete (ie removal of content), not soft delete (ie database column ‘isDeleted’). Backups copies must also be removed within 12? months. This complicates backup process to be sure, but so does medical / financial / nuclear etc regulation. It’s for a reason.

  • only people that have explicitly signed up for the service can be tagged in photos etc. This is both backend and frontend. If people have not signed up, the assumption is they do not want a profile within your service and you should not have one for them.

That’s the small-fry stuff. I think business on the whole is by design parasitic and it’s difficult to avoid that. I’ve never been a business person, never will, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask on this stuff. But I’d also say an MBA consultant is definitely the wrong person to ask! So in the end my advice above is really just me being open to wrongness rather than trying to express rightness.

I think smart people generally do have answers and we should listen to them, but I don’t consider myself one of those smart people and generally prefer to see a few good rules that allow maximum freedom; I prefer not to set rules and the above ‘rules’ are intended more as a guideline than a strict boundary. People need protection but they also need freedom and the trust that they can be their best selves. I believe people will rise to that.


My number one feeling from the tribalism I see is “the cause and the solution both come from compassion”, the cause is a lack of it, the solution is an abundance of it. It’s worth asking “how can we cultivate compassion”, really an interesting question once we take it seriously. I guess now we know compassion doesn’t come from ‘like’ buttons.

edit: this post is just addressing the current situation (motivated by The Social Dilemma topic). Safe Network and tribalism is perhaps a different story, but I haven’t written about it in this post.

8 Likes

This is honestly really really helpful in clarifying my thoughts and logic, massive thank you @mav.

Framing it as it really is, people are truly addicted. To the dopamine fix of likes, the roulette wheel of new content, that intense (but toxic) sense of purpose and belonging people get from tight knit groups/cults. Coming at this with compassion and rehabilitation is such an obvious approach now that I hear it. In general I’m wondering how technology can be designed to find balance though and you touch on that so that is something I’ll be focusing on as I reread a few times.
I need to learn more about process of rehab or deprogramimg. Do addicts have to want to be helped? Surely they’ll be in denial that it’s a problem.
The interesting thing I always find myself saying is “I don’t understand how you could think/support that”. I always make an effort to maintain my own reasoning but I can’t help but think someone who disagrees with me is probably saying the same thing.
I’m guessing what is most needed is establishing common ground and understanding.

A lot to think about still for me. I appreciate the lens.

5 Likes

Not just addicts, but yes people do need to want help before you can help them, both ethically and practically. Otherwise you are saying you know best, which may be true, but it’s undermining them rather than lifting them and Pelee react against that - more like imposing yourself rather than fostering their autonomy and giving them the means to see what’s best.

Step one is IME recognition, so we can do things to help people recognise for themselves what’s going on - Safe has a role here, because there’s a lot of ‘imposition’ out there (MSM etc). I think that is what a lot of people are reacting to by seeking out safe spaces (like mind/tribes/etc).

4 Likes

Right. Having an alternative (which is why I want to know how to approach something like this) would be important, things like The Social Dilemma help inform, and beyond that any outreach could just acknowledge the obvious which is politics and life has become the most divisive and corrosive as it’s ever been. The last part is plain as day. When they said in the social dilemma that near term fear is civil war, at least in the US I could see something short of that happening absolutely. Reds against Blues, trumpers vs “the extreme left” as they like to put it. It’s not looking pretty. We need to know as much as possible and have solutions ready, even better if it’s on Safe.

2 Likes

The solution to the bipolar politics, I wonder is rooted is both that politicians now tend to cater and pander to those who elect them, rather than the interests of all, informed by the direction suggested by that mandate. Also, the solution to the big back and forward, is not a different big but a smaller diffuse distributed power to the people… give the people hammers!.. then they can with their privacy; security; and freedom intact give a bit of negative feedback to counterbalance the positive compounding of problems. That is not to tempt revolution but evolution.

On topic of drugs… humans are addicts … from baby milk to giving children honey or praise or whatever, the positive drug fueled brain learns what brings reward.

Humans are drug addicts and positive feedback is a lot stronger than any external negative.
“Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins are the quartet of chemicals responsible for your happiness.”
You cannot just undo the association but you can add to it.

Compassion and rehabilitation are different classes of thought…

Certainly compassion is an interesting capability… but how to encourage people to think differently?.. the only route I wonder is to challenge them… and the best route to that is truth and candor.

Also, dictates for business like “Do not”; “must do”, do nothing to fix problems… that is the conservative route to resolving that more security and police, solves all problems… is error. Better to see the feedback to businesses encourage what is sustainable. It’s notable that most businesses do not evolve, they just fail at 13years because of alsorts of brittle.

but interesting to think on ways to get people to think differently and about others differently.

Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge. Carl Jung

Thinking differently is difficult too, that’s why most people get stuck in a rut.
Error… repeat… compound, till done!

1 Like

Was listening to an interesting podcast today about the future threat of Synthetic Media, more prominently and well known of which would be deep fakes. Along with this conversation was the long game Russia has been playing since 2014ish having online accounts to various social media, the purpose behind that being that these accounts look like real people and not newly generated bots. The tactics they used to intentionally create online tribes and stoke the fires of division are deeply nefarious and it seems as though China is ramping this up globally as well. I’m under no illusion that the United States likely participates as well and those in power have stuck ‘our’ noses in other people’s business throughout the years and bullied enough to probably justify getting it in return but to the detriment of people’s well being.

So I’d like to just mention that State actors engaging in disinformation campaigns, sowing doubt and confusion, infiltrating and influencing groups, etc has played a big role in starting this. I believe this was touched on in the Social Dilemma but I have been overlooking the role it has played.

There were some interesting discussions regarding synthetic media about how hardware solutions that authenticate the user and sign each piece of content so it’s known could be used. This is a bit worrying to me though because it sounds as though the vision is to have either hardware tied to our real identities or perhaps government issued identification that is somehow secured and that the hardware signs so content you post is verifiably from who is posting it. Apparently Adobe and some others are working on such hardware though I haven’t looked into that yet. Sounds like a privacy nightmare to me. There is always a trade off.

3 Likes

They would tattoo us with Digital ID, if they could.

Some people will not be comfortable until they know every damn thing… and even that won’t help how stupid they are!

I will play devil’s advocate for a moment.

There is a common theme/meme going around that “echo chambers” and “tribalism” are “bad”. But is that objectively true?

Let’s consider a couple of points:

  1. Humanity’s roots are in tribalism. Small communities of largely like-minded people.
  2. During the 20th century, news was largely centralized amongst just a few large media conglomerates in each country/region that were able to influence public discourse and thought to an astounding degree.

It could be that what we are seeing today is kind of a reaction to (2) now that people have access to information from thousands of possible sources, and they tend to filter it through their community (1).

So basically, people don’t don’t trust big media (for good reason) and are rationally using webs of trust instead.

Yes, I’m aware of the AI news feed algos of social media, etc, which plays a role in all this. But I rather think the pendulum is swinging away from centralized media control, which is generally a good thing, and lots of information is flowing, both true but surpressed things, and “fake news”. Eventually things will stabilize somewhere in the middle, I imagine.

tl;dr. Perhaps this is a moderately healthy process that needs to happen, and not something to “end” or design our way out of.

Really, to me the most concerning online problem today is censorship, and that is what is very attractive about Safe Network, which provides no censor button or lever.

4 Likes

The problem perhaps more with sameness. That people tend to too few differences that there is not variety in thought, which tempts too much simple think black and white on too many topics.

1 Like

That is different from now. When you pick a geographical place, people from there will have probably some common thought stereotypes and believes, but there will be diversity (different age groups, different trades,…). What Internet does is it allows people even with extreme and rare thougts find people thinking the same and feel like “this is normal”.

2 Likes

@danda I think you make good points about tribalism (or whatever) and the distrust of centralised/MSM, though I’m not sure how this varies amongst countries. We certainly have issues in the UK but in other parts of Europe trust in MSM is higher.

I think that it is not yet a shift of power to people, to decentralised webs of trust, but that there is a battle going on between powerful groups, commercial, state and unseen political alliances over control of people getting information from online and social media.

It may also be part of an enduring cycle, one aspect of which is increasing centralisation and oppression, that leads towards war or revolution. Democracy has been a way to avoid this by putting a limit on such power, by giving people a way to change who governs them (to a debatable extent) without force, and what is happening right now is particularly worrying because it looks as if the USA has already lost democracy to oligarchy, and is on the brink of authoritarianism.

We see a similar pattern in parts of Europe, though the fragmented governance and founding principles of the EU has for now also acted to inhibit this. I’m not sure if that’s going to last though, it’s far from over, and will of course be affected by what happens outside Europe.

2 Likes

Just a thought also that there is tribalism arising from those who script the narrative believing their own hype and propaganda; those who suffer that; and those in touch with reality, looking on wondering at the nonsense.