It’s been called The Echo Chamber Effect. From Wikipedia:
There’s a lot of “enclosed spaces” out there. Especially online. It could be a fan following, a blog, an agent or industry rep site, a guild, or a chat room. These spaces aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just… cloistered. The same people, saying the same things. And why not? Most of us social mediaites inevitably find our way into some sort of online niche; we become part of, perhaps even oversee, a tribe. (That’s what they call it now — a Tribe.) In fact, conventional wisdom encourages us writers to build a tribe.
The bad thing is when these social media circles, these tribes, produce an echo chamber effect.
I visited a blog recently and, by all appearance, it looked pretty swell. The Followers Box was overflowing, as were the Comments. The posts came with regularity and nary a one was un-Tweeted. But I noticed something odd about this blog, almost kinda creepy. The participants were…
- All white.
- All women.
- All writers.
- All saying pretty much the same thing.
I’m exaggerating a little bit. But only about the “all saying the same thing” part. Have you noticed that about some Christian writer’s blogs? There’s lotsa demographic consistency. Anyway, I followed one thread that contained 20 plus comments… and every comment (minus 1) was from a white woman.
I suppose this would not be strange if the site belonged to the Society for the Advancement of White Female Stereotypes. But it wasn’t. In fact, the site had no specificity as to a gender aim at all. Or ethnicity.
- It was a writer’s site.
- A Christian writer’s site.
So why the white women phenomenon?
Before you accuse me of misogyny or jealousy, or just plain rabble-rousing, let me hasten to add that other sites / communities reflect a similar disparity. Whether it’s politics, religion, media, sports, or a specific hobby, online communities tend to attract certain demographics.
Nothing wrong with this. In fact, it could be strategic. I mean, if you write biographies of NFL offensive linemen, you probably shouldn’t advertize on the Martha Stewart channel.
The trouble with tribe-building is when it leads to cultism.
Participants in online communities may find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. This can create significant barriers to critical discourse within an online medium… and as such, will at times eliminate the effects of positive feedback loops (i.e., the echo chamber effect) to that system, where a lack of perturbation to dimensions of the network, prohibits a sense of equilibrium to the system. (emphasis mine)
So, I guess, “perturbation” is good.
Systems that lack a “perturbation of dimensions” sacrifice equilibrium and erect “barriers to critical discourse.” Okay. Maybe some networks don’t want “critical discourse.” However, that doesn’t strike me as the type of cult, er, network I want to be a part of.
The aforementioned site bothered me not because the author was a bad writer dispensing false information, but because that demographic is ubiquitous in Christian writing circles: Caucasian, stay-at-home-moms-turned-authors.
No wonder us “male Christian horror writers” seem like such oddballs.
Yes, I know there are plenty of female Christian writers who work outside the home. There’s also some who write spec-fic. And there are a few non-white Christian authors out there. My point is only to suggest that when you get too many of the same type of people, in the same place, who believe the same thing, the echo chamber effect is inevitable.
Literary agent Chip MacGregor once suggested that blog tours are only minimally effective in author marketing. Why? Using a client as an example, Chip wrote
So [the publisher] sent this author out on a blog tour to be interviewed at 20 or 30 blog sites. She was great, but I don’t think it helped sell any books. It seemed to hit the same 300 people as everybody else…
I know, this is a little stretch. Nevertheless, I think the echo chamber effect was at work. Those “300 people” might have been very vocal, very enthusiastic, very well spoken. But if their opinions and enthusiasm never leave the tribe, they’re just talking to themselves. (Which may be one reason why Christian books often get poorly reviewed outside the Christian community. We’re cocooned.)
Quality, salience, and/or fan enthusiasm is no indication of a product’s relevance or potential breadth.
It must find its way out of the tribe.
In this way, “conversation” can be a deceptive term inside some social media circles. Why? Because oftentimes the ones “talking” are in an “enclosed space.” They Like (Thumbs Up) what’s being said. Their “ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced” by like-minded folk inside the community. The debate is pretty much localized and thus, demographic and ideological “equilibrium” is rendered inconsequential.
If you listen to Rush Limbaugh all the time, objectivity whithers. Or to put it another way, open-mindedness is not encouraged inside cults.
Writers know we must build followings. We must mine out fertile “circles,” build our tribe, both for our edification and our platform. Amen! The problem is when those circles become cults, little echo chambers that reinforce our opinions, bolster our self-image, and insulate us against critique.
So go ahead, call me a trouble-maker, a malcontent, a heretic. I prefer to think of this as my attempt at “perturbation.”