How radical are people today and what role does the network play? Since the suspected terrorist Stephan B. killed two people in Halle, there are also discussions about echo chambers and filter bubbles in which he is said to have moved - in other words, in digital spheres in which, to put it simply, he found confirmation for his worldview. As we should consider, ZEIT ONLINE has asked the communications scientist Merja Mahrt.

ZEIT ONLINE: Mrs. Mahrt, we all like to deal with topics that we are interested in and believe in. Do we all live in a filter bubble or in an echo chamber?

Merja Mahrt: That's a typical misunderstanding. This will not be the case for most people. Of course, everyone has their own perspective on life: one is important climate protection, the other driving without speed limit. But the vast majority of people are not so cloaked as to live in a bubble or chamber and get nothing from the other side.


Merja Mahrt is a communication scientist at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. In her habilitation thesis "Beyond Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers: The Integrative Potential of the Internet," she has dealt with digital fragmentation and its effects. © Alexander Vejnovic

Mahrt: We are not just living in an online world. We get in contact with different people, at work, at school, when we pursue a hobby or engage in social activities. We talk about things we have read, seen or heard - often from different sources. Through this exchange we get other information, different perspectives on a topic. I do not want to deny that we all always agree with each other and evaluate all views equally. But usually you still have a life outside the screen.

ZEIT ONLINE: You have been exploring filter bubbles and echo chambers for years. Are the concerns of radicalization in the network justified in your view?

Mahrt: Any concern that focuses only on digital communication offerings or their use, I consider exaggerated. Fragmentation is not only visible on the internet, but we have been discussing it more frequently since the creation of the network. Likewise, radicalization did not just come about through the internet and it does not just happen on the net. There are many different ways of radicalization. We have to explore the processes behind it.

ZEIT ONLINE: After the attack in Halle videos of the crime apparently in closed groups on the messenger service telegram spread - of which gets the public unlike in social networks like Facebook or forums like 8chan almost nothing. Are Messenger-closed spaces invigorating radicalization?

Mahrt: I've come from research on exploitation: What I'm investigating usually affects the entire society. The groups that communicate about such services are so small that I can not grasp them in my studies - rather, colleagues in extremism research are more likely to do that. What I can say: Surely we should not ignore the importance of such encapsulated groups. If someone is important to them, as seen in an online community, it will certainly be important to him how he presents himself and how he participates. But again, if I am in such a group, but I am also dealing with very different things in my monastic life, the potential for radicalization will probably be lower.