Are people a bubble

Radicalization: Most people don't live in a bubble

How do people radicalize themselves today and what role does the internet play in this? Since the alleged right-wing terrorist Stephan B. killed two people in Halle, there has been discussion not only about backdoors in messengers, but also again about echo chambers and filter bubbles in which the assassin is said to have moved - i.e. in digital spheres, in which he, to put it simply, is Found confirmation of his worldview. That is too one-sided, says communication scientist Merja Mahrt.

She is a communication scientist at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. In her habilitation thesis "Beyond filter bubbles and echo chambers: The integrative potential of the Internet" she dealt with digital fragmentation and its effects.

Time online: Ms. Mahrt, we all like to deal with the topics we are interested in and in which we believe. Do we all live in a filter bubble or in an echo chamber?

Merja Mahrt: That is a typical misunderstanding. For the vast majority of people, this will not be the case. Of course, everyone has their own perspective on life: climate protection is important to some, and driving without a speed limit for others. But the vast majority of people are not so isolated as to live in a bubble or chamber and not hear anything from the other side.

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Time online: Why not?

Mahrt: We don't just live in an online world. We come into contact with different people, at work, at school, when we pursue a hobby or get involved in society. We talk about things that we have read, seen or heard - and these often come from different sources. This exchange gives us different information, different perspectives on a topic. I don't mean to say that we all always agree with one another and rate all points of view equally. But usually you still have an off-screen life.

Time online: You have been researching filter bubbles and echo chambers for years. In your opinion, are the concerns about online radicalization justified?

Mahrt: I consider any concern that only focuses on digital communication offers or their use to be exaggerated. Fragmentation is not only seen on the Internet, but we've been discussing it more often since the web was first created. In the same way, radicalization did not arise through the Internet and it does not only happen on the Internet. There are many different avenues of radicalization. We need to do more research into the processes behind it.

Time online: After the attack in Halle, videos have apparently spread in closed groups via the Telegram messenger service - unlike on social networks such as Facebook or forums such as 8chan, the public receives almost nothing of this. Do messengers create closed spaces that invite radicalization?

Mahrt: I come from usage research: what I investigate generally affects society as a whole. The groups that communicate via such services are so small that I cannot include them in my studies - colleagues in extremism research tend to do that. What I can say: Surely we shouldn't ignore the importance of such isolated groups. If it is important to someone how they are seen in an online community, it will certainly also be important to them how they present themselves there and how they participate. But again: If I am in such a group, but in the rest of my life also deal with completely different things, then the potential for radicalization will probably be lower.

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