Homophily and the ABC ‘echo-chamber’

ot calling Pot Black

The ABC Radio National programme “Future Tense” with Antony Funnell gives us an insight into the ABC’s lack of insight into its own bias. I cannot detect a trace of irony.

Many social researchers believe that most of us are naturally inclined toward those we agree with, or those who seem a lot like us in other ways.

In other words, that we naturally search out and associate with people who echo our own thoughts and beliefs. ‘Birds of a feather flock together’, as they say.

We like to imagine that we’re open to different points of view and that we mix with a variety of people, that we expose ourselves to a range of voices. But is that really what happens …

A guest on the programme, Ethan Zuckerman, from Harvard University’s Berkman Centre for Internet and Society explains the term, “homophily’.

It’s a term that applies to almost without exception to the tendency of  people “to form close friendships with people who they have a lot in common with”.

… homophily can make you sort of dumb, actually. If everybody around you has the same background that you have, you probably have a less rich information network. You’re probably not casting as wide a net for solutions and for different perspectives than you would if you had a more diverse group.

But we seem to be finding ways to choose the topics we’re interested in, the perspectives we’re interested in, and perhaps are not getting the full value of that incredible diversity of information.

… if people on the left only listen to voices on the left, people on the right only listen to voices on the right, then we actually become more polarised. It’s actually much harder to have a political debate because we’re all much more confident in our views, we’re all a bit more extreme in our view.

There is one difference. Certainly those on the left indeed do listen to the ABC. But so do those on the right. After all, they pay their taxes too. So who, by default, is more open and exposed to a range of ideas?

One Response to “Homophily and the ABC ‘echo-chamber’”

  1. writerchick Says:

    Interesting post. I think perhaps the problem is that ‘critical thinking’ is no longer encouraged in our society anymore. Rather than seeking out information in order to learn the facts, all too often we accept what others tell us – whether family, friends, co-workers or even the newspapers (does anyone still read those?).

    I think that associating with people with common bonds certainly makes sense, being among people with whom you are in constant disagreement would be difficult.

    However, I think truly that it isn’t as much about left or right as it is about the fact that though people seem to have endless ‘solutions’ very few seem to have an adequate assessment of what the problems are.

    Writer Chick

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