The “liberal echo chamber” is not a thing

I has data:

The media landscape is distinctly asymmetric.

The structure of the overall media landscape shows media systems on the left and right operate differently. The asymmetric polarization of media is evident in both open web linking and social media sharing measures. Prominent media on the left are well distributed across the center, center-left, and left. On the right, prominent media are highly partisan.

From all of these perspectives, conservative media is more partisan and more insular than the left.

The center-left and the far right are the principal poles of the media landscape. 
The center of gravity of the overall landscape is the center-left. Partisan media sources on the left are integrated into this landscape and are of lesser importance than the major media outlets of the center-left. The center of attention and influence for conservative media is on the far right. The center-right is of minor importance and is the least represented portion of the media spectrum.

Conservative media disrupted.
Breitbart emerges as the nexus of conservative media. The Wall Street Journal is treated by social media users as centrist and less influential. The rising prominence of Breitbart along with relatively new outlets such as the Daily Caller marks a significant reshaping of the conservative media landscape over the past several years.

So there it is. Right-wing politics are coalescing around conspiracy websites, while left-wing politics remain broad in scope. The echo-chamber is not ours.

Of course, as a person who is paid to fact-check bullshit, I could have told you that. The “liberal bias” my blag has been accused of is actually just a reflection of right-wing politicians’ tendency to charge through reality as if facts are porcelain pots that can be broken if enough force is applied. It’s not like I’m hiding my criticisms of left-wing woo; it’s just that woo is a little too busy twirling in a corn maze to get anywhere, so the focus will be proportional to the batshittery that is getting somewhere.



  1. emergence says

    That’s the thing; a lot of media outlets like the New York Times and Politico are centrist and aren’t all that committed to progressive ideals compared to, say, FTB. Right wingers just call mainstream media sources like the New York Times “radical leftist echo chambers” because major conservative media outlets are so far to the right that they’ve warped conservatives’ perspectives of what being moderate means.

  2. militantagnostic says


    The “conservative” Overton window has been moved so far to the right it is in the middle of the next block.

  3. blf says

    Eh? First, the data, as quoted, is mostly that non-progressive media is less likely to consider progressive viewpoints than (as measured by published links) the progressive media. Second, as quoted, it makes no mention of how often those links in progressive media are followed, nor the comprehension or criticism of the content at the links (or, for that matter, at the progressive sites).

    And third, “X bias” and the existence or not of an “X echo chamber” are not the same thing: One can be familiar with the content of alleged echo chambers (for X, and/or for ¬X) whilst still being notably X-biased. And, presumably, visa-versa (have absolutely no idea of the existence or content of one or both echo chambers, whatever one’s own bias (acknowledged or not)).

    There does seem to be a strong tendency to mostly read confirming inputs (for either value of X); e.g., Liberals and conservatives have one thing in common: Zero interest in opposing views (the title is overstated, it’s nowheres near “zero interest”, “low [or little] interest” would be far more accurate):

    In the wake of the 2016 election, there’s been a lot of talk about how Americans are stuck in partisan bubbles, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Anecdotes […] remind us that bubbles don’t happen accidentally or passively. Instead, many politically minded people are in a state of motivated ignorance: They neither know — nor want to know — what the opposition has to say.

    As social psychologists, we wondered whether liberals and conservatives were equally resistant to learning about one another’s views. Some psychology studies, for instance, have suggested that conservatives are more prone to the confirmation bias — meaning they selectively consume information, like biased news, that aligns with their preexisting opinions. But we weren’t so sure that liberals were any more open-minded.

    So we created some experiments to check. In one, we offered a chance to win $10 to participants who opposed letting gay couples marry. There was a catch: To qualify for the prize drawing, they had to read eight arguments for legalizing same-sex marriage. As an alternative, they could read eight anti-same-sex marriage statements — but any potential prize money would be reduced to $7. Greed and curiosity were teamed up against motivated ignorance.

    Motivated ignorance won. Most conservatives (61%) chose to stay in their bubble and forgo the extra cash.

    And when we gave liberals the same dilemma? Slightly more, 64%, chose to stay in their bubble.

    The general trend held regardless of the issue or how we probed their interest. We asked about legalizing marijuana, climate change, gun control, or abortion. We even asked about elections (including Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton). The result was the same: Neither side much wanted to hear from the other.

    Why were they so dug in? It wasn’t that they already knew the opposing arguments. Participants on both sides admitted to being largely unaware of the other side’s views, and this was confirmed by how poorly they did on a quiz before diving into the rest of the experiment. Rather, participants said that hearing from the other side felt lousy; they reported it was about as unpleasant as taking out the trash or standing in line for 20 minutes.


    That last excerpted bit certainly resonates with me: I find reading (or listening or watching) non-progressive items both tedious and enraging.

    One can criticise the study, as summarised in the excerpted column, on several points. The one which sticks in my caw is the apparent assumption both values of X, and indeed most or all followers of an X viewpoint, can be motivated by money. (Or that the 3$ difference is adequate motivation, even when totaled up across all the different experiments (although as a former poor student myself, it might actually be (I assume most participants were students)?).) Tell that to, e.g., the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: “Anti-fascism, more than any other single factor, is what motivated and united the volunteers of the Lincoln Battalion.”

    None of this is disputing the OP’s quoted claims: The media landscape does seem asymmetric (as defined in the OP’s quote); Notably left-wing MSM sites seem few and far between; and Content at the non-progressive mainstream media sites does seem to far more extreme (“rabid”, as I’d say), both historically (compared to prior content at the same or similar media) and histrionically (tone and (non-)reliability compared to current mainstream progressive sites, or in some cases even the site’s own prior content). What this comment is trying to point out is the conclusions drawn by the OP do not seem to be supported by the OP’s own quotes, and that there is some contradictory evidence.