People unknowingly congregate online by hosting news feeds, study finds


People inadvertently create online “echo chambers” when they organize news feeds to include their favorite sources, new research shows. Photo by Pixelkult / Pixabay

December 6 (UPI) – People unknowingly regroup with other like-minded people online, fueling political polarization across the United States simply by organizing their news feeds, according to a study released Monday by the National Academy Proceedings. of Sciences.

In an online newscast model, when people are less responsive to news, their online environment remains politically mixed, the data showed.

However, when users are constantly reacting to and sharing articles from their favorite news sources, they are more likely to create a politically isolated network, the researchers said.

By sorting effectively into these polarized networks, they essentially develop “epistemic bubbles,” the researchers say.

“Our study shows that even without social media algorithms, polarized media coverage alters users’ social connections and unknowingly pushes them into so-called ‘echo chambers’,” the co-worker said. -Study author Christopher Tokita in a press release.

In these echo chambers, “they’re surrounded by other people who share the same political identity and beliefs,” said Tokita, data scientist at cybersecurity startup Phylum.

Once users are in those bubbles, they’re actually missing out on more news stories, including those from their favorite media, according to Tokita.

Users avoid what they consider “unimportant” information at the expense of not seeing subjectively important information, Tokita said.

“Whether a user chooses to react or ignore certain news articles can help determine whether their social network will become ideologically homogeneous or remain more diverse,” he said.

The research adds to existing knowledge about ‘information cascades’, or the process of individuals observing and imitating the actions of others, so that broad online change occurs.

This phenomenon is reminiscent of the collective behavior seen in schools of fish or swarms of insects, the researchers said.

In the United States, political liberals and conservatives get their news from different sources, according to previous research.

Although political polarization has been a problem nationwide for the past few decades, some studies suggest it may be exaggerated.

For this study, the team built a theoretical model and tested their predictions with data from real social networks on Twitter, looking at 1,000 subscribers from each of four media outlets: CBS News, USA Today, Vox, and the Washington Examiner.

To keep up with clues of political ideology and shifting social networks, the researchers used the entire network of users to record who followed and unsubscribed over a six-week period in the summer of 2020, said. they stated.

Followers of CBS News and USA Today were more ideologically diverse than those of Vox and the Washington Examiner, which researchers say tend to provide more politically-inclined media coverage, the data shows.

Followers of Vox and the Washington Examiner tended to lose the political and ideological diversity among their own online connections faster than those who followed CBS News and USA Today, the researchers said.

Additionally, according to the source, sharing viral news on social media may lead people to conclude that some of the “friends” they follow are distorting the information as reported by their own favorite media, according to the media. researchers.

When people “stop following” connections they deem untrustworthy, they effectively organize their social spheres online and unwittingly split into polarized networks, the researchers said.

Conversely, people who consume and share fake news could inadvertently isolate themselves from anyone who follows traditional sources, they said.

While online interactions are not the only ones responsible for the divisive shift taking place in US politics, they have significantly influenced human behavior and relationships, the researchers say.

Blatant knowledge of ideology or political alignment is not necessary for social media to become politically separate for users, they said.

“It’s not hard to find evidence of polarized discourse on social media, but we (…) show that the polarization of online social media naturally emerges as people organize their feeds,” said said co-author Andy Guess in a press release.

Counterintuitively, this can happen even without knowing the partisan identities of other users, said Guess, assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs.


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