What is this Echo Chamber people keep referring to?

These forums are great! Everything the bikeportland comments are on the best of days - and we get to choose our own topics, talk about how we learn, interact, make sense of it all. Thanks for indulging me. And don’t worry, I’ll stop hogging the mic soon.

Back to the question. It is common for folks to use the term echo chamber as the standard shorthand for what we don’t want bikeportland to be (or perhaps rescue bikeportland from being). On a superficial level of course I get that - who wants to live, spend time in, an echo chamber? But the funny thing is Bikeportland has never struck me as anything like an echo chamber (presumably a place where everyone agrees, holds the same views). We talk about so much, disagree about almost everything, and have fun, most of the time.
Why do people keep using that phrase? What are examples of this? Why am I apparently so unaware of this problem?

I also want to ask about the relationship between this echo chamber notion and disagreement. I get the sense they are somehow related. To me disagreement is healthy, interesting, essential, makes for good conversation, learning. But it can also be mean and unproductive. We have some of both on bikeportland but I am unclear how or if these concepts (echo chamber & disagreeing) are linked in people’s minds.

Thanks.

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Here’s where I remember seeing “echo chamber”: Someone posts something that’s not pro-bike (for instance saying a cyclist crash victim was to blame) and someone will reply, “That won’t do well in the echo chamber here”, “those type of comments aren’t welcome here”, “you won’t get far here with that view”, etc. It doesn’t matter that the comment may have got several “likes”, or that others were making similar comments.

Their view seems to be that even though there may be lots of different viewpoints, including ones that are not pro-bike, only the pro-bike comments count as being representative of bikeportland commenters, and others are some sort of outsiders who are not welcome.

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Because many folks on this blog already think they have most of the answer to “how can we make sure everyone has access to what they need to live safe, healthy, fulfilled lives?” The bicycle.

The discussions and disagreements that do exist are then within the narrow band of “how do we make the bicycle the agent of access to the aforementioned needs”. This alienates many people because most are not starting from the point of having chosen a specific transportation tool for the job.

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Thank you both for those observations. I wouldn’t have thought of either. I think perhaps in part because from my vantage point I see so many subgroups within the bikeportland commenter population:

  • thought-provoking, insightful, challenging, articulate;
  • subject matter experts
  • ideologues (MTBs always win; cars always at fault);
  • contrarians, false equivalencists;
  • outsider who blunders in and isn’t familiar with the subject, parrots foolish claims (cars pay more than their far share, bikes are freeloaders, bikes should be licensed, distracted pedestrians at fault, retroreflective clothing necessary, etc.)
  • troll, makes unsubstantiated claims, keeps repeating himself, refuses to engage

And of course some commenters cross over or inhabit multiple subgroup categories…

But my point is that while some of these groups—and there are many others—tend toward the reflexive I am always right dynamic that could be seen as a precursor to an echo chamber, what stands out for me are the many flavors of commenter, the knowledge diversity, and thoughtfulness, so the potential for group think doesn’t rise to the level of a threat, isn’t for me a takeaway.

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Many people here feel the bicycle is the answer, as you say, but many don’t (as you actually also said). I think some people THINK others feel that way, and then read it into comments. As an example, I’ve made comments favorable towards property owners over people biking, favorable towards drivers over people biking, etc. and got replies on those that I’m biased towards bikes.

When you say about the pro-bike bias that “This alienates many people because most are not starting from the point of having chosen a specific transportation tool for the job” , you’re saying that many people reading don’t have a pro-bike bias. I agree that many do not. And I think quite a few of them participate in the comments, enough to prevent the comments section from being an “echo chamber”.

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