Wednesday, August 07, 2002

A little while ago, I received an email from the author of "Just One Minute" that complained that my rebuttal of Kaus was inadequate. Fortunately, I don't have to- Tapped did it for me. Ain't this InterWeb thing grand?

In any case, that wasn't my main point; my main point was that the E.C. effect (E.C. means "echo chamber" for those who were wondering) allows for selective emphasis of some arguments and viewpoints and diminishment of others. Instapundit linked to Just One Minute that linked to Kaus; all three implied something that (as Tapped pointed out) doesn't exist, but may exist, and anybody who didn't read the Tapped link would think that this unchallenged assertion must therefore must be true, just as the bazillion of idiot statements made by Rush and his sort are unquestionably believed by his listeners, despite his being caught out in enough mistakes and lies to fill several good-sized textbooks.

What's interesting for me is that this effect is somewhat restricted to certain Internet media, and isn't necessarily present in all. Usenet, for example, is a medium that doesn't allow for this sort of thing, as criticism is automatically attached to the original posting and therefore can't be selectively ignored. Webboards are somewhat more vulnerable to selectivity thanks to their more exclusive membership, but there's usually one or two that "upset the apple cart". Websites, on the other hand, are notoriously prey to selective quotation and information; but old-style websites usually update too slowly to really have a powerful effect, and without the connection, speed, and integrated community of other media, they just can't pull it off too well. They're too slow, too isolated, and too unitary.

Blogs, however, are entirely different.

They're different because they combine elements of both forum and website. They're connected to one another, they update (relatively) quickly, and there's certainly a community thanks to all the linking, cross-linking, and quotation. Because they're websites, however, there's no connection between critic and criticized; a blog can be devestatingly debunked by another blog (or anybody else on any other Internet medium), and it won't matter, because the connection between the two goes strictly one-way, and therefore commentary becomes invisible... unless, of course, the operator of the blog decides to link to it.

From this we get reinforcement of certain ideas- one blog links to another with an idea, a third links to both, a fourth links to all three, and the original links to the other three saying "these guys agree with me!" Spread this around enough, and you could have dozens, even hundreds of sites doing this sort of mutual reinforcement, and eventually it leaves the realm of individual ideas and becomes a vector for comprehensive ideologies. The slight differences between the views of any two people will no doubt create some conflict, but the reinforcement aspect will remain intact on issues that they agree on, with the inevitable conflicts merely a veneer... a gloss of difference that creates the illusion that there is any substantive disputes that exist. Each passing iteration of an idea increases its legitimacy and credibility, and if criticism does appear, the successful iterations of that idea that have gone unchallenged will ensure that the criticism will be drowned out. Even if it isn't, so what? It'll just go around again, and the critic (already drowned in defenses of the original idea) will be helpless to stop how can one or even a few deal with this sort of thing?

Hence the term "Echo Chamber" and why I use it repeatedly, although I don't pretend to have invented it. The hegemony over ideas is held by the right in a large number of different kinds of media, and there are some E.C. effects that exist in other media, but it was the blogging medium that created the ideal conditions for such a thing to take place- the greatest pseudo-community that the Internet has yet seen, and the final (albeit unanticipated) vindication of Cass Sunstein's concepts of "idea filtering". He made the mistake of thinking we'd do it through agents, but that isn't the case. We don't need agents to filter out unwelcome ideas and emphasize comforting ones. As the blogging "community" has showed us, we can do it ourselves.

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