With New Survey, Facebook Pushes Back Against Claim that Use of Site is Polarizing

A cellphone displays a Hillary Clinton campaign post on Facebook promoting her bid for the presidency in the 2016 election. Credit Mike Segar/Reuters
A cellphone displays a Hillary Clinton campaign post on Facebook promoting her bid for the presidency in the 2016 election. Credit Mike Segar/Reuters

For years, political scientists and social theorists have fretted about the Internet’s potential to flatten and polarize democratic discourse.

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.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Facebook page. Her supporters are not as likely to see Senator Ted Cruz items on their news feed.

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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SOURCE: FARHAD MANJOO
The New York Times