Facebook study suggests online users reinforce their views by creating echo chambers

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from several institutions in Italy and one in the U.S. has found evidence that suggests Internet users follow a pattern similar to that found in other media regarding how they look for and use information they find. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes how they downloaded data from Facebook, analyzed it and found examples of echo chamber type behaviors.

Scientists and other people have known for quite some time that many people tend to limit their exposure to news sources that offer that goes against their own beliefs—instead, they are drawn to sources that they find agreeable and in so doing bolster their beliefs—when multiple people do the same thing and use the same sources they create what has become known as echo chambers. The researchers with this new effort have found a similar pattern in by people that use the Internet—most specifically, those that use Facebook.

Suspecting that Facebook users access and consume news information in ways similar to that found previously with other news outlets, the researchers accessed publicly available data via Facebook's Graph and used it as a source of information. It provided them with data regarding user content which the researchers divided into different categories, such as conspiracy theories or science news. They also created a dataset consisting of data from what they describe as "troll pages," which of course are the comments that people leave on other people's pages. Both types of data were obtained for the five year span 2010 to 2014. The team then ran analysis software on the dataset to obtain pattern information.

In examining their results the researchers report that they found evidence that Facebook users do indeed tend to engage in creating echo chambers, encasing themselves in environments that mesh with their own personal beliefs while rejecting other viewpoints, thereby reinforcing their own views. The researchers suggest such practices help explain such odd phenomenon as the widespread rejection of scientific evidence of global warming, or Jade Helm 15, where alarmists set off online panic by suggesting that military training exercises occurring in various parts of the U.S. last summer were a sure sign of an impending civil war. The suggest that those seeking to break into echo chambers with what they believe is truthful information, find a way to reach a larger audience, rather than by knocking their way into small subgroups. They note that some have achieved some success by resorting to buying advertising space to get their message through.

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More information: Michela Del Vicario et al. The spreading of misinformation online, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1517441113

The wide availability of user-provided content in online social media facilitates the aggregation of people around common interests, worldviews, and narratives. However, the World Wide Web (WWW) also allows for the rapid dissemination of unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories that often elicit rapid, large, but naive social responses such as the recent case of Jade Helm 15––where a simple military exercise turned out to be perceived as the beginning of a new civil war in the United States. In this work, we address the determinants governing misinformation spreading through a thorough quantitative analysis. In particular, we focus on how Facebook users consume information related to two distinct narratives: scientific and conspiracy news. We find that, although consumers of scientific and conspiracy stories present similar consumption patterns with respect to content, cascade dynamics differ. Selective exposure to content is the primary driver of content diffusion and generates the formation of homogeneous clusters, i.e., "echo chambers." Indeed, homogeneity appears to be the primary driver for the diffusion of contents and each echo chamber has its own cascade dynamics. Finally, we introduce a data-driven percolation model mimicking rumor spreading and we show that homogeneity and polarization are the main determinants for predicting cascades' size.

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Citation: Facebook study suggests online users reinforce their views by creating echo chambers (2016, January 5) retrieved 25 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-01-facebook-online-users-views-echo.html
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User comments

Jan 05, 2016
just the opposite: echo chambers are being used by democrats to reinforce there own warped beliefs on the subject of global warming. global warming is a democrat hoax. Even NASA is now saying that six decades of climate science models were wrong; they are also saying that greenhouse gases instead cause global cooling.

Jan 05, 2016
democrats are using echo chambers to propagate their lies of global warming. in 2006 Al gore said the earth would be cooked by 2016. Well we are all still here and nothing has happened liar.

Jan 06, 2016
One of the problems I have is everyone else's filter bubble. I generally don't unfriend people with differing political views... but either they unfriend me/don't publish to me, or facebook, through its mysterious algorithm, decides not to display their posts to me. Either way, without choosing to, my facebook has indeed become an echo chamber.

Jan 11, 2016
Before we know it we'll have a new study revealing that grass is green.

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