Graham Plaster

culture + diplomacy + ethics + smart power + technology + humanities + entrepreneurship + philosophy

Echo Chambers & Civil Discourse

Memes and viral content in social media can have an echo chamber effect. This effect can be amplified by both moral and amoral factors. I put them in the following categories:

  • Ow – things that hurt to watch
  • Ew – things that are disgusting
  • Aaw – things that are sweet
  • Wow – things that are amazing
  • Hot – things that are erotic
  • Huh – things that confuse
  • LOL – things that make us laugh

In essence, each of these factors ties into some visceral human reaction, usually using an image or video as its vehicle. This is because, as they say, a picture says 1000 words, and visual formats pack a lot of information. These factors can be used for good and for evil, in campaigns that motivate positive change and movements that unravel civil society.

These factors can also be used strategically to market ideas or maneuver information in the public sphere, as propaganda, political spin-doctoring, psychological operations or simple brand management. Because the internet has traditionally supported a certain level of anonymity and because human nature can be corrupt if left unchecked, it takes a certain amount of leadership to leverage these echo chamber factors for good. As I have said in many of my lectures, virtual worlds require virtuous leaders, just like our own. We can cultivate civil discourse online if we understand human nature, set moderation standards and actively uphold a respectful tone.


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