I recently had a revelation that shattered my queer-tinted glasses: most of society has little exposure with the LGBTQIA+ community. Frequently correcting people about harmful homophobic and transphobic remarks is a reminder that society is still predominantly dictated by heteronormative values. Consequently, I have realised that my existence as a fully-accepted queer person is merely a reflection of my digital echo chamber. So, are these spaces fostering a state of delusion, or do they facilitate a useful space for conversation around social issues?
To define an echo chamber simply, social media has the ability to pick up on one's personal views by monitoring what content they follow, like, and share, limiting them to exposure with those sharing similar ideologies. This process enables users to exist within their own social media bubbles that echo the same ideas they share. Groups that are marginalised within mainstream society, such as the LGBTQIA+ community, can connect with like-minded individuals online and explore their identity within safe circles that may offer more acceptance and support. In turn, the negative implications of these echo chambers forming is a heightened sense of distrust and resistance against those with different opinions, leading to a decreased willingness to engage in open discussion and debate. This phenomenon is known as online polarisation and it occurs when users actively choose to only see content that they believe backs their belief, regardless of whether this information is factual or objective. A 2020 study on echo chambers finds that, ‘when polarisation is high, misinformation quickly proliferates’.
For a lot of people, lockdown proved to be a time of self-reflection and exploration of our identities. In my case, the extended time at home led me to realise that those girls who I saw as really good friends in high school were actually crushes, and I was in fact more than just a strong LGBT+ ally. Curious to learn about this space, I started searching up queer influencers and creators and soon saw my social media pick up on these changes.
It quickly became a lifeline of information, transforming my worldview into an existence dictated by opinions on queerness.
I picked up on how to dress in more queer-coded styles, and I was able to learn insights on social issues that I had been less sensitive to previously. My interactions with friends were injected with discussions on sexuality and gender expression, which, to my luck, was appreciated and respected without question. My queered echo chamber led to meeting many other like-minded friends and discovering that some of my own friends were a little more fruity than expected.
However, the issue with echo chambers is that they are spaces you don’t want to leave, making existence within a heteronormative reality a lot more challenging than before. Being met with less open opinions on gender identities was frustrating, and I felt offended when reminded to ‘tone down’ my appearance for interviews. This whiplash is a harsh reminder of just how much the digital world was tinting my vision of reality. I was getting more emotional and worked up over opinions that called my appearance ‘feminine’ and arguing over why ‘they/them’ can be used to describe a singular person. Encountering often confused or annoyed responses, I recognised that my strong opinions were coming off as a little too aggressive, and that learning how to navigate existence in my echo chamber and reality was a skill of balance. My digital world is its own paradise; however, I must tread the fine line of remembering it is not reality — otherwise, I will lose my mind spiralling down a rabbit hole of content incongruous with my daily life.
Despite these issues, it’s not all terrible to exist within your own social media bubbles. The space I cultivated makes me feel safe and helped to build my self-confidence in my identity. Instead of trying to fight my thoughts, I have come to embrace them and find comfort in my identity within this circle of companionship. It’s a space that iterates the understanding that there is nothing wrong with being queer, welcoming liberation and visibility in the face of societal suppression. Falling down a rabbit hole isn’t all too bad if at the end of the fall there are gorgeous enbies in faerie cosplay, right?
At the end of the day, it is all a matter of balance. An understanding of how social media confines you within certain communities is essential for your self-awareness. No one wants to leave their echo chambers (I sure don’t), but you can’t let it completely cloud your perception of reality. Remembering that not everything within these spaces will be factual or true is essential in ensuring you do not fall into the trap of narrowing your worldview and cultivating beliefs that are too extreme.