Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

14 August, 2015

Social Media: blocking others from your bubble
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:44 AM

Blaugust, day 14

I’ve written so far this week about the sins of social media, and the problems that hinder what should be the greatest communication medium of all time. Today, I address the last issue I’ll cover: blocking others and the bubble reality some people cultivate.

Seeking like minds

As I wrote yesterday, people tend to want to belong to groups. We signal our interests and try to find or attract like-minded people. As I said then, this blog is a way I signal that I’m a gamer, game developer, and writer in an attempt to attract like-minded people.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to find others. But, when that group starts becoming insular and rejecting outsiders you start to have problems. Instead of relying on the bond formed by shared interests, people start forming bonds through a mutual distrust or even outright hatred of others.

Not of the tribe

When you have an “in group” you can also have outsiders. Take game consoles as an example; most people can only afford one, and they will pick the one they feel is best. But, other people will prefer other consoles. When you have a clash of opinions like this between the tribes, the mob mentality takes over and an “us vs. them” attitude takes hold. As the video I shared on Tuesday showed, if this other group makes people angry enough, you start to retreat to the in group and build totems of what makes you angriest about the other group.

In game consoles, this usually takes the form of people insulting other consoles on message boards. And, as the video I mentioned no Tuesday says, eventually these groups turn inward.

The echo chamber inside the constructed bubble

As the tribe turns inward, they start talking amongst themselves and stop talking to the other side. This creates an echo chamber, where ideas just echo back and fort and gain strength, often ideas that make people the most angry.

But, the further problem is that turning inward also blocks outside influence. People don’t want to interact with “the enemy”, because they’ve heard such terrible things about the outsiders from their own in group. In social media, it’s become easy to block others because of harassment, but those same blocking mechanisms can be used to shut out challenging viewpoints as well. In this case, peoples’ ideas are never challenged because they never have to ever interact with the other group. And, people will not want to believe that their own group is capable of terrible behavior, or will at least justify their own group’s extremism in the name of a righteous cause.

The person doing the blocking has all sorts of ways to justify the blocking; humans will often make decisions and then come up with a justification afterwards. Often it’s because they use the caricature of “the enemy” to justify cutting off another person. There’s likely an element of wanting to “punish” someone who doesn’t believe in your righteous crusade. In some cases, blocking occurs when someone doesn’t decry “the enemy” strongly enough! I’ve had at least one person block me on Google+ because I didn’t immediately speak against a certain gaming controversy because I was trying to present a more nuanced opinion of what was going on.

This isolation from other viewpoints leads to lopsided thinking, where your group can never do wrong but the enemy will always do wrong. For example, you might think that threats of death and violence only come from “the enemy” in a fight. This is not the case, as there are almost always extremists on all sides. (The article link describes some terrible things, but it’s worth reading to see how one celebrity lives in a bubble based on ideology.) It’s just that the extremists from that other tribe get discussed endlessly (it makes everyone angry), but the extremists of your own group are dismissed as merely fringe if they are even acknowledged. People in a tribe who get their information from a limited pool will rarely see the whole picture.

Stepping outside on occasion

Any example that begins with “Me and all my friends…” is usually not a good example. You and your friends tend to form a tribe of people who are probably very similar. In an MMO, this means that you probably have similar playstyles and motivations for playing, so you don’t represent the diverse whole in a game.

To become a well-rounded person, it helps to expose yourself to dissenting points of view. You don’t have to agree or accept an argument contrary to yours, but if you don’t even listen you don’t get the full picture. Trying to understand someone else’s motivations can help you understand why they disagree. It may not change your viewpoint, but perhaps you can see that “the enemy” who isn’t really an extreme caricature is a just person who is trying to do what they consider the right thing. And, frankly, we could use a bit more empathy online.


  1. This perspective is one of the reasons I’m glad to have met you, Brian.

    I’m far from perfect about it, but I also believe it’s important to stay connected to people who see the world differently than I do. That’s how one avoids being trapped in a Reality Distortion Field that leads to poor decision-making. I’m already good enough at that!

    On tribal extremism, the tendency of people to divide into (often just two) self-centered camps long predates social media. Madison addressed this tendency toward destructive “faction” in the Federalist Papers, for example. That’s not to try to downplay your points, but to observe that it seems to be a part of human nature. So while I endorse looking for ways that technology, including social media, can help to reduce the echo chamber effect, I don’t expect anyone to offer a non-draconian solution. It’s just a hard problem.

    Finally, here’s the part I like the least about the existence of “extremists” in both major political camps (which is what’s really behind the recent gaming and Hugo splits): the somewhat sophisticated rhetorical gimmick of lumping everybody on the other side in with the relatively smaller number of real nuts on that side.

    In its mildest form, that is an attempt to avoid the honest consideration of ideas that don’t fit into one’s current model of reality. If you can persuade yourself that some idea is tainted by any proximity to the craziest and most vile stuff from the other side, that’s a convenient excuse for never having to question your beliefs.

    Worse than that, though, this tactic often becomes an attempt to silence the expression of all disagreement with one’s beliefs through intimidation: if you defy me, I will declare you to be one of Those Awful Persons, which will justify the use against you and your family of every evil thing the Internet can do to you.

    This (not surprisingly) makes a lot of people decide not to participate at all… which is precisely the goal of those who don’t want any beliefs expressed other than their own. To the extent that these special interest battles are proxies in the larger political conflict, the echo chamber effect is not just unpleasant or undesirable; it is dangerous.

    Which is maybe more than you were going for in a blog post about social media, but you can’t say I’m not taking your thoughts seriously. ;)

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 18 August, 2015 @ 5:15 AM

  2. Bart Stewart wrote:
    This perspective is one of the reasons I’m glad to have met you, Brian.

    I deeply appreciate you saying that.

    That’s not to try to downplay your points, but to observe that it seems to be a part of human nature.

    To be clear, my goal for posting on social media wasn’t to say that anything unique was happening here. On the contrary, a lot of this behavior is what we already saw in a lot of offline contexts, just brought to a much larger and more diverse audience. Part of the promise of the internet was to allow people to come together. As I’ve mentioned several times before, my moment of enlightenment about the internet was talking to someone across the world from me. I realized I’d be able to talk to people I’d never otherwise have the chance to meet. (But, luckily, I do get to meet some people!)

    As someone who grew up poor in a place with low diversity, it was an amazing experience. And because of the internet I’ve gotten to meet and talk to a whole bunch of interesting people. But, my heart sinks when I see people using the internet to spread any sort of hatred or bigotry, especially people who otherwise advocate for equality. When I see someone who says they are for equality tearing down someone else for expressing their opinions without directly hurting others, I just have to shake my head and wonder if they really understand what they are advocating.

    A friend of mine messaged me about these posts and said I sound “disillusioned”. I don’t think I am, more disappointed. Like MMOs in particular, the internet as a whole seems to be this thing that had amazing potential but is instead squandering it. But, in both case I still soldier on and keep the original flame I had, hoping that perhaps I can do something to turn the tide.

    Comment by Psychochild — 18 August, 2015 @ 5:38 AM

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