Process Post #7: How TikTok has Revolutionized the Echo Chamber
Let’s start out with a rough definition of what an echo chamber is. As a third year Communication student, I’m not stranger to the heavy academic discourse of the complications of the modern public sphere, digital divide and the echo chamber. I think echo chambers have their positives and negatives. When it comes to things like democratic political discourse and educational resources, echo chambers are not where you want to be. In most cases, the very notion of an echo chamber is in itself non-democratic (of course depending on what context you’re putting the word democratic in). However, one of the best things about some of the social media apps that we put ourselves on today is that idea of community.
Community or Echo Chamber?
In most academic contexts to which the concept of an echo chamber has been applied, it has always been in direct association with the idea of using social media and new media platforms and technologies for the greater societal good, often involving politics or social education. Which is a side of some social media platforms, namely Twitter, that I have a love-hate relationship with.
However, I am a firm believer that social media sites were built for the purpose of what’s in their very title: socializing. Although they can serve in other ways, straying from really good to really (really) bad, platforms like Facebook were quite literally built to serve socialization. You can read more about a movie that demonstrates the conception of Facebook in my blog post about The Social Network (shameless blog plug).
This is why I want to talk about TikTok for a minute.
TikTok: Using Echo Chambers and Algorithms as the Main Function
Unlike most other popular SNS’ today (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook), Tiktok is not really based on a following system. In fact, you could say that following people on TikTok only really contributes to you seeing more of their content on your “for you page” (not necessarily seeing it at all though), and that the more followers someone has, the higher the hierarchy on the app (and more likes, if your followers are using their “following” page often enough).
The For You Page is the main driving feed of TikTok. An algorithm driven, echo-chamber showing you the content that it thinks you want to see based on what it knows about you. Now, this conversation can turn really creepy and scary really fast, but I’m going to redirect it towards the interesting side of this app structure.
Essentially, if the algorithm is doing you right, you will only see content that you (at minimum) can relate to, will laugh at, is similar to something else you have liked or shared before, or will enjoy in some capacity. Which can be said about other features of apps, like Instagram’s explore page or Twitter recommended tweet/content functions. But basing an entire app on this is something very interesting in relation to discourse about how dangerous echo chambers can be.
I think there are two reasons why the echo chambers of TikTok haven’t been completely written off as problematic.
One, most people using TikTok are using at least one other social media site, meaning this isn’t necessarily the only way they are digesting media content. I can’t say that they are necessarily following the right people, or reading the news in any capacity, but TikTok is likely not the only app they turn to for entertainment and it is unlikely that their echo chamber on TikTok is a direct duplicate of who they follow on other platforms.
Two, TikTok has been praised for it’s ability to form communities. I can testify to this for sure. Although I haven’t made any online friends or one-on-one connections with anyone from TikTok, I do feel as though there are many, many other people out there that I can relate to just through the one app alone.
I could dive into this conversation a lot more, so I might write a follow-up process post on this another week to continue the conversation. But overall, I think there are positives and negatives to every single SNS out there and TikTok for sure is not exempt from criticism; however, I wanted to highlight the intriguing structure of the app and how the phrase echo chamber was essentially repurposed as the entire basis for one of the most popular apps in the world right now.