LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

Social media and people living in ideological bubbles

Cass Sunstein wrote Republic.com in 2001. I have the book. He updated it. The basic thesis was that people would enclose themselves in ideological bubbles and not hear the other side. This was long before Facebook became a major factor. Then of course the whole argument got replayed in relation to Facebook’s algorithms.

Now, there is some research on the subject. Not that the method is beyond criticism. But it’s good to base the discussion on evidence, even if imperfect rather than pure conjecture.

Because so much information now comes through digital engines shaped by our preferences — Facebook, Google and others suggest content based on what consumers previously enjoyed — scholars have theorized that people are building an online echo chamber of their own views.

But in a peer-reviewed study published on Thursday in the journal Science, data scientists at Facebook report the echo chamber is not as insular as many might fear — at least not on the social network. While independent researchers said the study was important for its scope and size, they noted several significant limitations.

After analyzing how 10.1 million of the most partisan American users on Facebook navigated the site over a six-month period last year, researchers found that people’s networks of friends and the stories they see are in fact skewed toward their ideological preferences. But that effect is more limited than the worst case some theorists had predicted, in which people would see almost no information from the other side.

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