About that news filter bubble…

A common pessimistic belief is that Web news-hounds are all trapped in what’s called a ‘filter bubble’, meaning they consume only the news stories and opinion articles that confirm their political prejudices. So we’re all doomed to eventual Civil War, in which Guardian-wielding hippies stand off against hardened Fox News militias. Erm, no… actually that’s not the case. Not according to authoritative academic research published in 2014.

The authors of the paper “Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers and Online News Consumption” were able to scrutinise the Web visits of 1.2 million Internet users for three months, who had together generated around 2.3 billion page views. That’s a healthy sample, and thankfully it was all anonymised. They were able to drill down into the data to find 50,000 Americans users who frequently loaded news Web pages.

The researchers came to the conclusion that there is only very limited ideological segregation among avid online news readers in the USA. That was even after accounting for media outlet bias and any personalisation the website was throwing at them (based on past browsing habits and suchlike). The news readers did tend to click on Facebook/Twitter and Google Search ‘click-bait’ headlines that appeared to confirm their political prejudices, but those links were found to be only a tiny 2% of their total news consumption.

samedirectionPicture credit: Stephen McLeod Blythe.