Exposure to Diverse Information on Facebook [Skepticism]

Exposure to Diverse Information on Facebook by Eytan Bakshy, Solomon Messing, Lada Adamicon.

From the post:

As people increasingly turn to social networks for news and civic information, questions have been raised about whether this practice leads to the creation of “echo chambers,” in which people are exposed only to information from like-minded individuals [2]. Other speculation has focused on whether algorithms used to rank search results and social media posts could create “filter bubbles,” in which only ideologically appealing content is surfaced [3].

Research we have conducted to date, however, runs counter to this picture. A previous 2012 research paper concluded that much of the information we are exposed to and share comes from weak ties: those friends we interact with less often and are more likely to be dissimilar to us than our close friends [4]. Separate research suggests that individuals are more likely to engage with content contrary to their own views when it is presented along with social information [5].

Our latest research, released today in Science, quantifies, for the first time, exactly how much individuals could be and are exposed to ideologically diverse news and information in social media [1].

We found that people have friends who claim an opposing political ideology, and that the content in peoples’ News Feeds reflect those diverse views. While News Feed surfaces content that is slightly more aligned with an individual’s own ideology (based on that person’s actions on Facebook), who they friend and what content they click on are more consequential than the News Feed ranking in terms of how much diverse content they encounter.

The Science paper: Exposure to Ideologically Diverse News and Opinion

The definition of an “echo chamber” is implied in the authors’ conclusion:


By showing that people are exposed to a substantial amount of content from friends with opposing viewpoints, our findings contrast concerns that people might “list and speak only to the like-minded” while online [2].

The racism of the Deep South existed in spite of interaction between whites and blacks. So “echo chamber” should not be defined as association of like with like, at least not entirely. The Deep South was a echo chamber of racism but not for a lack of diversity in social networks.

Besides lacking a useful definition of “echo chamber,” the author’s ignore the role of confirmation bias (aka “backfire effect”) when confronted with contrary thoughts or evidence. To some readers seeing a New York Times editorial disagreeing with their position, can make them feel better about being on the “right side.”

That people are exposed to diverse information on Facebook is interesting, but until there is a meaningful definition of “echo chambers,” the role Facebook plays in the maintenance of “echo chambers” remains unknown.

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