How to avoid an echo chamber.

As great as Mastodon and other open source social media are, is there a danger of the echo chamber effect as would exist on any social media.

As I get used to the conversations in here, I notice that Mastodon seems to attract people with diverse but similar interests that are generally sympathetic to one another:

Is there a danger of exclusivity?

Has anyone written about this?

Curious to hear thoughts..

@ephemeral I think a large part of this is because those are the kind of people who are uncomfortable with twitter. Also the other side of this coin that people don't talk about is that with more focused communities it's a lot easier for new ideas to spread and evolve. And cross pollination is easier across fedi than between siloed services.

@Paul I agree completely, and I see why this happens. What I have been considering is more whether ostracisation and exclusivity is a threat to Mastodon.

For example, if a user was to arrive on the platform and share conservative views on controversial topics, would a conversation be possible or would this lead to immediate segregation?

I love the community, and the thoughtfulness, but I also love debate. There is rich debate on here, but is it possible to lose something through exclusivity?

@ephemeral well there are extreme right instances that are generally blocked my most left instances, and there are centrist instances like and that are generally tolerated by most instances. So depending on where you sign up you have varying degrees of federation with different parts of the political spectrum.


I've seen this too, and thanks for those links, which I will check our.

For a perfectly related example, I would add that I find the idea of a left/right divide itself removes the nuance and complexity of human thought. But you quote the political spectrum as an accepted or established idea. Neither of us is "wrong", but we have broader viewpoints.

So I guess the question (as I think it out) might be more: "How much diverse thought is too much diverse thought?"

@Paul @ephemeral

Discussion CAN remain civil.

Care in expression can help, but rancor can easily derail any exchange.

If a "discussion" becomes a one-opinion rant, and disengagement does not work, then the fediverse tools of mute and block come into play.

@Algot @Paul

Absolutely, and a very important point. This, I suppose, is the importance of moderation (or, possibly, arbitration). Thanks for bringing it up.

To move this to real-life examples, there are plenty in the current political climate. I have debated with people who hold pretty hard-line opinions and have noticed the point when they move to either rant, or total silence (both are detrimental; possibly the latter is because I am ranting!).

@Paul @ephemeral I personally found debate to have much more focus and less derailing on masto in general. There are trolls and angry and rude people too, but precisely because of federation moderation tools they get somehow weeded out in most cases. I think the question if these 'borders' between communities (you call it exclusivity) are a threat to mastodon is a wrong one. Many instances ban freeze peach, now that's a threat of some sort.

@Paul @ephemeral I'm speculating here, but I think by choosing your instance and their CoC, and who you follow and respond to, you curate your debating circle. It will determine the shape and size of your echo chamber, your "horizon", if you will, and consequently audience. It's simply a more organic and socially sensitive process where power is differently distributed than on silos. I would say it's more dispersed, but shape of it is dependent on more people.

@luka @Paul

Absolutely. Similar to the point made by @Algot in this thread (separate strand) - moderation seems to be a key factor.

In the historical public sphere, I have never read anything about how moderation was handled.

By exclusivity I am more thinking of a "higher-moral-ground" - is there an eventual danger that Mastodon users will see their type of debate as sanctified?

And also agreed on dispersal - I'm certainly not trying to bad-mouth Mastodon, but just to consider critique.

@ephemeral Personal experience here: (a) It depends. And (b) it's all about humans. Here same as on Tw***er there are people which are kind, open and willing to engage in a thoughtful, witty debate, and there are those who aren't. The #fediverse is just pretty homogenous at the moment due to the very nature of how which people came here, and so there are other opinions predominant over here. But I'd really wonder if it followed entirely different mechanics. 😉


@z428 @Paul

That's also a good point. It's the array of people involved that creates the debate. And I guess I am stretching this a little (of course there can be rich debate even between two hard-core Python developers!).

Whether it follows different mechanics is something I'm trying to figure out in my current project. Interestingly, I think it might. And the reason might be more to do with the extended network (links from outside Mastodon). But I'm still trying to get my head around it...

@ephemeral Curious to see what you'll find. Personally I think it very much also is an issue of scale. Back in the late 1990s, we used to engage in mailing lists mostly. Though there was some moderation, mailing lists mostly worked because there was a majority of people who seemed to have agreed upon a basic set of rules on how (not) to communicate. This, too, worked in early Twitter days. It just stopped working at some point. It stopped working with a large crowd of people ...


@z428 @Paul

Another great point that I had thought about before. Scale seems central to how anything can work. I read about the ideal city-state a few years ago (will try to find the source) where local governance was calculated to work best in cities of around 200,000 people.

For mailing lists, and even further back in ARPAnet, rules and etiquette were key, but scale was also maintained (through financial exclusivity too, I would add).

@ephemeral ... discovering these tools, people that so far had little to no experience in respectful communication online with people they don't know. It, too, stopped working in a situation in which a platform such as Twitter essentially has a business model that depends upon keeping people interacting *a lot* with the platform (which seems to have a bias towards pushing "controversial" fights at high frequency). But it also helped making technical tools available to people who, ...


@ephemeral ... on a late-1990s state of things, never would have been able to involve into digital communication and exchange at all. Maybe it boils down mostly to lack of education and training in dealing with "global-scale" digital media. Not sure... 😉

@z428 @Paul

Again, two good points. Training in etiquette and the rapidity of scale (particularly with the "forced" business model).

In forests, planting too many young trees is bad for the forest growth. They spring up too fast, with poor defences and a bad bark structure.

Trees that grow slowly under a long-established canopy are healthier and live much longer. They form better bonds with their environment and neighbouring trees.

Maybe an interesting comparison there.

@z428 @Paul

In fact, rapidity of scale might be the crucial point here. Just as with post-Industrial Revolution capitalist expansionism, many of the problems we face are not because of the use of resources, but because of the rapidity of mining, implementation and scaling of the resources and their infrastructures.

@ephemeral Indeed... surely need some time to dive deeper into that topic. Maybe, at the very least, the fediverse is an interesting experiment to study social behaviours in an easily accessible technical environment. Maybe it would need sort of a central collection of resources and write-ups on these aspects of things... 🙂

I block conservatives on sight because I'm not interested in anything they have to say. If I wanted to talk to such people I could talk to my neighbors across the street.

@ephemeral @Paul

@desdinova @Paul

Interesting, and valuable to moderate your own network. I assume I understand your reason for doing that (vitriol and rhetoric are tiring and can be offensive).

But what I have been thinking about is the other side of that debate. If you block them, and they block you, can either of you learn? More specifically, if you want them to understand your world-view can that debate be had at all if there is no open communication (in real life, or on a social platform)?

@ephemeral @desdinova I really think most people aren't equipped for debate, especially between groups whose ideas stem from different axioms. Debate should be opt-in, otherwise it's draining and pointless.

@Paul @ephemeral I've come to suspect that most debates are just dick-measuring contests. I didn't change my mind about (right) libertarianism by talking to people, but by reading books written from different perspectives.

@desdinova @Paul

Thanks both for the perspectives.

I'll throw an example into the mix.

In 2015, there was a referendum in Ireland to allow same-sex marriage. As an ex-Catholic country with an ageing population, a tight vote was expected, if not a loss for the campaign side.

Younger people talked to their parents & grandparents, to explain their situation, or that of their friends. I saw people change their minds over the course of a few weeks.

The vote passed on all age demographics.

@desdinova @Paul

(and that is not to negate either point - I fully take on board both the point of debate being draining, and the point of "dick-measuring contests"; you're both right, a lot of the time, but I wanted to introduce the idea of positive social debate also)

@desdinova @Paul

I'm not sure. I saw it happen, in my own family and in others. Two major points seemed prominent:
1) Why would I refuse someone else a right that I have when it doesn't affect me?
2) I didn't realise that I knew gay people (sons, daughters, friends).

Having watched it happen, I was amazed to see the possibility of shift in opinion using logic. Ditto in 2017, when there was a referendum on abortion rights in Ireland. Same type of debate, and that was a landslide victory.

@ephemeral @desdinova I think there's a big difference between taking irl to people you already know and talking to and strangers online.

@Paul @desdinova

Absolutely, and maybe that is really what I'm getting at - thanks for this point.

Online debate can get a lot of traction, but little follow-through. It is important for the former, not the latter.

This is another dimension to public debate - which forum is used when. I don't discount the possibility of online debate providing dimensions of understanding, but think that understanding can't stop with just online.

@ephemeral @Paul

I don't expect them to care about or understand my worldview, and I think I understand theirs all too well because I used to be one of them as a much younger man.

I've come to view conservative positions as both morally and intellectually bankrupt, and have no interest in debating their pros and cons.

@ephemeral personaly i have a more diverse timeline here than at twitter, because i have lesser choices and because the general tone of the conversation is less aggressive.

@benni Interesting. I think mine is also more diverse than my Twitter, where a lot of the same messages appear simultaneously.

Do you think that might be partly because on Twitter you follow some/many people that you know in real life, so it becomes less diverse based on location?

On here, are you very selective about who to follow? Or do you intentionally follow as many people as possible? Just need to answer!

@ephemeral i am not so selective here. if i would follow with the same strict rules as on twitter, my timeline here would be very empty.


That suggests a broader public sphere because of the platform. Mastodon supplies you with that possibility. Your rules differ from one platform to another - mine do too. That's an important point and comes down to self-regulation of the stream. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I have been blown away by the links and conversations on here, which I would not, and could not have on Twitter (for example). The broadness is the appeal.

@ephemeral yes, but in a second view there is another side of this. my timeline is in some aspects more diverse here but in other more diverse at the birdside. here i have more techie people but more diversity inside this bubble at the birdside it is the other way around, there are more non-tech people, but i am lesser tolerant with other aspects (for exapmple politics)

@benni Also very interesting. This is key to cross-pollination, as mentioned by @Paul above.

The messages you get at another social platform (public sphere #1) can be brought to this platform (public sphere #2) even unconsciously, through your own thought process. As a result, you might have a broader point of view on topics not just because of one or the other, but because of both.

So a public sphere might be best served by those who frequent many public spheres...


And to add to this, I think that many public spheres might be a crucial point.

Philosopher Jurgen Habermas gave the example of 19th Century France, where the café was seen as a public sphere where artists, philosophers and intellectuals met and debated. But this has since been criticised for not being very "public" (all male, all of a wealthier class).

If women and farmers and homeless people and soldiers had also frequented those spaces, how much broader would the debate have been?

@ephemeral @benni

Thank you for very interesting thoughts and debate. I'm personally curious about social complexity shaped by digital networks, especially in relation to libre software.

I feel the key aspect is distribution of power with all the nuances. Who can shape their timelines and in what way? In that sense mastodon/fedi is almost impossible to compare with silos like tw/fb. And the question of power includes profit and economics.

@ephemeral Oh man I find the idea of an echo chamber to be SUCH a fiction in real life. :D

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