• Home
  • In the news: between May 4-11, 2015

In the news: between May 4-11, 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in the media between May 4 and May 11, 2015

Is Facebook to blame for making us more polarized? No, we are.  - Yahoo News

A quick Google search for the social-media giant Facebook turns up a range of provocative questions: Is Facebook making us lonely? Is Facebook losing its cool? Is Facebook dying? Scientists at Facebook have added another: Is Facebook reinforcing ideological bubbles that users build around themselves?

Their short answer is: yes. But the effect is small compared with contributions users themselves make. Users build those bubbles through their choice of "friends," what those friends share, and the extent to which users open links to news or opinion material that would offer views that run counter to the user's view.

On one level, the results, published Thursday in the online journal Science Express, suggest that for now, social media and their complex, user-focused algorithms aren't to blame for the nation's growing political polarization.

That polarization is a trend many political and information scientists see as a threat to a well-oiled democracy, which relies on people with competing ideologies working together toward shared goals. The study reinforces the observation that people are bringing to the virtual world their real-world tendencies to surround themselves with people who think like they do.

Overall, the algorithm organizing what a user is most likely to see reduces cross-cutting content by slightly less than 1 percent, while a user's self-built bubble reduces that content by about 4 percent. But the self-built bubbles reduce the amount of cross-cutting content for conservatives by 17 percent and by 6 percent for liberals.

Given the relatively small influence of the algorithm, the results "are not all that different from a lot of what we know about how people are acting across ideological and party lines in the real world," says Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas at Lawrence who also studies the interplay between social media and politics.

In many ways, a "don't shoot me, I'm just the piano player" sensibility about the study is justified, he suggests. A vast amount of social-science research has made it "very clear that when people are building their online social networks, they're building them to reflect their offline social networks."

And offline, people live in partisan bubbles in a country that has become increasingly polarized, he adds.

Additional media coverage includes: